Inspired by Italy #5: Ritual

Extenuating circumstances. You know, those are the times when I get to unilaterally change the rules because, well, it’s a special situation. Maybe things look particularly grim. Maybe you have a large bill coming due. Maybe time is running out. Maybe you need extra cash. We can all come up with times when we need to take matters into our own hands and solve our problems regardless of what God says.

We find King Saul in a similar situation as we read 1 Samuel 13. The prophet, Samuel, instructed Saul, all the way back in chapter 10, to go to Gilgal and wait there for him to get there.

“Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.” - 1 Samuel 10:8

King Saul had the clearly revealed will of God. See, as a prophet, it was Samuel’s job to communicate from God to His people and when he spoke, God was speaking. However, on day 7, Saul got impatient. Samuel was taking too long to get there. I mean, it’s the seventh day, right? Not only that, but his army was bailing on him because they were scared of the enemy gathering around them. So King Saul decided to offer the sacrifices himself (1 Samuel 13:8-9). And almost immediately Samuel arrived.

Saul tells us himself why he didn’t wait (1 Samuel 13:11-12). He wanted God’s blessing. Essentially, he used the offering as a talisman, merely going through the exercise expecting that his performance of the ritual would be sufficient to gain God’s favor.

There’s just one glaring problem with Saul’s thinking: he had to ignore God’s clearly revealed will in order to perform the ritual that he thought would gain God’s favor (v.13). 

Walk through dozens of churches, basilicas, and cathedrals, some in use and some hardly more than museums, in a two-week span and you’ll see all sorts of rituals of devotion and worship and, at the same time, wonder where they come from. There are practices designed to show reverence (a good thing, by the way) and worship and commitment that, as far as I can tell, had no ground in Scripture, either by command or inference or example.

How often do we engage in rituals that, in and of themselves, are actually good and righteous acts, but at the expense of God’s revealed will? The Bible shows us over and over again that God’s Holy Word is to be our “rule of faith and life” (Westminster Confession of Faith I.2). Even right and good and godly acts are to be governed by God’s revealed will.

It’s possible to do good things for good reasons and yet still violate God’s revealed will. We will frequently try to do good things with the wrong motive - the hope of earning God’s blessing.

Is the Bible your sole rule of faith and practice? Does it govern your beliefs and your actions?