What would you say is a good definition for true obedience? To put it simply, true obedience involves hearing and doing. When someone in authority over you tells you to do something, obedience is the act of hearing exactly what you are told and doing exactly what you are told. True obedience involves immediate positive response to the commands of the one in charge. So, if a dad tells his son to stop playing basketball and put the ball in the garage, but the boy puts the ball beside the mailbox, did he truly obey his father? If your boss tells you to have a project completed by Tuesday, but you decide to just finish it Monday morning, have you obeyed?
Why is it so easy to disobey? In fact, I would argue that nothing comes easier than disobedience. Disobedience says, “My way is better than your way. I know best; you don’t.” But ultimately, disobedience says, “I don’t trust you.” Disobedience flows from a heart that doesn’t trust God to satisfy. We love to jokingly mock Adam, Eve, and the people of Israel for their disobedience. We shake our heads at their stubbornness and facetiously ask, “How could they possibly disobey a God who was present with them, who had given them a purpose, and who had promised them a paradise?”
We know how it is possible. Sin reaches down into the deepest caverns of our hearts and corrupts us from the inside out–so much so that the eyes of our hearts begin to delight in the very things that will ultimately kill us. Our disobedience flows from our distrust, which is evidence of our distaste for God.
Throughout Exodus, the people of Israel have given us examples of how not to follow the Lord. At times they followed the Lord begrudgingly, meaning, they followed God, but really preferred to be doing something else, like live in slavery. At other times, they only followed the Lord for what he could give them, like food and water. And over and over again, we see how the Israelites fail to keep the covenant they made with God. They fail to obey all that he has commanded. To be sure, most of the time, the Israelites are scoundrels who seem to be trying their hardest to ruin everything God was giving them. However, in Exodus 39, we have an example of true obedience from the people of Israel. We have an example of a people who truly trusted their God to satisfy them.
Do you remember Exodus 28 and the instructions God gave his people for how to make the clothes the priests would wear in the tabernacle? Well, Exodus 39 explains what the Israelites did in crunch time. It’s like their coach has given them a game plan. Now, it was time to execute. The question for the Israelites would be simple: Would they trust and obey the Lord their God? Exodus 39:1-31 give a detailed answer of Yes to that question! A testimony of the Israelites’ obedience is found in verse 32: “Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they did.”
Those final three words are massive. “So they did.” They obeyed the Lord in all that he commanded them. True and complete obedience. They didn’t change any of the Lord’s commands. They simply took his instructions and followed them. We run into trouble when we think we know better than God when it comes to how we should live. There may be certain commands from the Lord that we struggle to obey, but that doesn’t remove our responsibility to obey them. True obedience is true trust in action. It is the disposition to trust the Lord’s grace to satisfy us. True obedience is tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, and that following his ways will bring more joy than following our own ways.
Take the example of the Israelites and live your life according to the word of the Lord. May it be said of us, “Everything the Lord commanded, so they did.”
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.