Way back in history a king was met by a seer who came with a message from God. That seer reported God’s commission to destroy a people group for the sins they had committed some generations before. Not only were the people to be destroyed to a person, but also the sheep, camels and donkeys. Having delivered the message that holy man departed leaving the king to carry out God’s will. The king had an issue with shiny things though and while he was happy to comply in the destruction of most of the stuff the shiny things seemed to be too valuable, and the king did not obey.
Some distance away God again met the seer and saying that he regretted having installed that man to the office of king for he was disobedient to God’s command. That prophet made his way to the king who met him with great confidence, but shortly felt the great cloud of displeasure. The prophet had to interrupt that arrogant king to get a word in edgewise. The seer told the king of his disobedience, but the king standing toe-to-toe with God’s messenger in essence claimed to have done better than what God said.
This is the story of Saul, Samuel, and the Amalekites as recorded in I Samuel 15. Samuel speaking on God’s behalf pointed out that God was more interested in obedience than sacrifice. God is owner of all things and needs not to be handed cattle. The only thing that people can give God is their allegiance. Saul did not. Saul was rejected by God at that moment.
In the next chapter Samuel anointed David king over Israel though it would be many years till that became a reality. In the meantime many things would transpire setting the emotional and spiritual stage for David to compose with greater power and range than he had yet known. As king they would be known from that time forth.
Saul was a powerful character in David’s life. Saul’s great downfall is being recalled by David in Psalm 40:6.
6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. (Psalm 40:6–ESV)
David knew of Saul’s disobedience and David wanted nothing of that. To further develop this God is recorded as having given David an “open ear.” In the New International Version the word pierced is used and the New American Standard Bible also posits pierced as a potential meaning for this phrase. That takes the meaning back to Exodus 21 and Hebrew slaves. Look at that passage which I have copied below.
1 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever. (Exodus 21:1-6–ESV)
What is going on with this? Here a Hebrew slave binds himself for the duration of his life to his master. This is what I think David is implying in Psalm 40. Saul made excuses claiming to do things better than God had said. It is disobedience of the highest order. David draws a contrast with that binding himself as slave to God for all his life.
Back in Psalm 40:6 there is another half of this verse.
David having offered himself was received into God’s service. God did not require a burnt offering, one of tribute. Neither did God require a sin offering, one of atonement. God’s requirements are not one time purchases. A single sin offering as David here mentions does not suffice for sin would still happen. Guilt would still come.
God desired and required but one thing: David. This was everything he had to offer. In some manner sheep were too little in that God was not delighted in them and in another manner sheep would have been too much in that God did not require them. Even in failure he would not buy his way back with offerings and sacrifices.
Keep returning to the doorpost.
While in the passage on verses 4 and 5 of this chapter I wrote about godly optimism I am not a godly optimist1. I must yet learn that view of God. Being much more of a godly pessimist that pessimism clouds my understanding and interpretation verses like this one. The cloudiness that I had on this passage was that I was looking for a God who would wreak havoc in David’s life for failure. After all, if David had sworn fealty to God, if he had bound himself to God forever as a slave would not disobedience result in destruction? Even with the mark of God on his life he was still prone to wonder. God knew this from the moment at the doorpost, but God did not excommunicate him for his infidelity. He gave more grace and continued to work with David in and through the failures. Punishments and some of them long term would be visited upon David and his family, but those were not vengeance, but discipline.
We will fail. As a living sacrifice we will get off the altar as frequently as our little children get out of bed at night disobeying one more time. We are to be living sacrifices coming daily to the doorpost in an effort to avoid sin. When we sin we must go back to the doorpost in order to restore a right relationship of surrender.
God desires and requires but one thing, the most personal of pronouns: you, me, I, but these are things we offer not things he takes. These are things that have to be given over and over. They are not things which once given results in an allegiance collar on our necks where disobedience produces an immediate shock.