How often have you parents given your children a set of directions on what to do or how to behave, only to have them pick and choose what they will obey. I have heard it called selective hearing, a problem I understand that many husbands have as well. I mention both selective hearing and selective obedience because they seem to be a malady that affected the descendants of Noach in this week’s parasha, Genesis 6:9 – 11:32.
After the flood had receded and the earth had dried and was inhabitable once again, God spoke to Noah,
… saying, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”Genesis 8:15-17 *
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”Genesis 9:1
HaShem’s command to Noach and his family appears to be a reiteration of His original command to Adam and Chava,
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:28
Even though the command was to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, the descendants of Noach for some reason, decided that two out of three wouldn’t be a bad idea. So, according to the narrative, instead of “filling the earth” they decided to “be fruitful, multiply” and then stay in one place. They chose to settle in the land of Shinar (what would become Babylon) and there they decided not to “fill the earth.”
They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”Genesis 11:4
Later, the first king of Israel would also learn the consequences of only following a portion of HaShem’s commands. In 1 Samuel 15, we read the account of Samuel giving HaShem’s instructions to King Saul on how to decisively deal with King Agag and the Amalekites.
Now go and strike down Amalek and put all he has under the ban of destruction—so have no pity on him; but kill both men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.1 Samuel 15:3
Unfortunately, just like the descendants of Noach in Shinar, King Saul did not follow HaShem’s commands completely. Instead the narrative recounts that
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; everything that was worthless and feeble, they destroyed completely.1 Samuel 15:9
Then, to make matters worse, King Saul tried to backtrack a bit, claiming that he disobeyed so he could sacrifice the best of the spoils to HaShem.
“They brought them from the Amalekites,” Saul replied, “for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to ADONAI your God—but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”1 Samuel 15:15
This led to Samuel’s proclamation, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…”. In other words, sacrifice that stems from disobedience is not a holy sacrifice but an act of rebellion. In the end, Saul’s disobedience and his refusal to accept responsibility for his disobedience eventually cost King Saul his kingdom, as well as what could have been his dynasty. Possibly more than that; it cost him his advisor Samuel, “Samuel never did see Saul again until the day of his death” (I Samuel 15:35).
There is a lesson for each of us today in the actions of the descendants of Noach at Shinar as well as King Saul and the Amalekites. When we find ourselves in a situation where Scripture is quite clear about what to do or where we know beyond a doubt what we should do and choose not to do what we know is right, it is an act of disobedience. It often seems so easy to explain why we don’t do what we know we ought to do or is right to do. Even if we find some “good” in the midst of the disobedience, such as Saul being willing to sacrifice the best of the ill-gotten spoils, we would do well to remember Samuel’s words to Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…”.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.