Introduction

In previous messages, we introduced the difficulty found in Scripture when God seems to command people to do things that are sinful. We gave examples of this idea of “sin by command” and examined the reason for them. First, we considered the command for Hosea to marry a prostitute, not just a former one, but one who was still practicing. Yet we found that there was no specific command against anyone who was not a priest marrying a prostitute, though a woman who was a prostitute should have been punished herself. Another problem we considered was the command to Ezekiel to eat meat defiled by being cooked on human dung. Yet we pointed out that really the only reason food was unclean is because God proclaimed it unclean. This was a ceremonial law He made, not something that was inherent in the food itself. Therefore, since God made the clean and unclean laws, He certainly had the right to tell someone not to keep them, if He so wished. The same applies to the command to Peter to kill and eat unclean things in Acts 10.

Yet we also established it as a principle that the ultimate good is always to obey the voice of the LORD, and the worst of sin is to disobey Him. We considered I Samuel 15:22-23a in this connection.

22. So 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 heed than the fat of rams.
23. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

Whatever good the law might have a man do, then, the greatest good is to obey the voice of the LORD, and to rebel against Him is as the worst of sins. Obeying the word of the LORD is ultimately man’s first duty, and trumps any other consideration. If the LORD, then, commands a thing, it is always going to be a far greater sin to disobey Him than any sin that might be involved in the command. To do what the LORD says to you, moreover, is always more important than what He might have said to others in the past. Thus if there is such a thing as “sin by command,” it would be better to obey than to disobey, in any case.

Yet are there really examples in the Scripture of sin by command? Does God actually contradict Himself in this? Let us examine some more instances wherein this seems to happen, and see what else we can learn about sin by command.

Striking the Prophet

Another example of a command to sin is when a prophet of the LORD commanded a man to strike him in I Kings 20:35. “Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his neighbor by the word of the LORD, ‘Strike me, please.’ And the man refused to strike him.” We can quite understand why a man would refuse to strike one of God’s prophets, even if commanded to do so. Yet there is no mercy for this man when he refuses to do what would seem to be a despicable act, as we see in the following verse. “Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, surely, as soon as you depart from me, a lion shall kill you.” And as soon as he left him, a lion found him and killed him.” Why would God command someone to do such a thing? And why would he be so severely punished when he understandably refused to do it?

What we have already discussed regarding Ezekiel 4:12 and the command to cook food on human dung applies very much to the prophet who commands a man to strike him in I Kings 20:35. The key is what we found in I Samuel 15:22.

“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 heed than the fat of rams.

Certainly under normal circumstances, striking one of the LORD’s prophets would be a sin indeed. Yet this was hardly a normal circumstance. In this case, the prophet had told the man to strike him, and had done so by the word of the LORD, as we are told in the verse. I take it as a principle that when the LORD wishes to communicate, the one He communicates to will always understand the message, and will know that it is the LORD Who is speaking to him. Therefore, I believe that this man knew that it was the LORD’s word he heard, and that the LORD was commanding him to strike this prophet. Therefore, for him to refuse to obey this command was rebellion against the word of the LORD, and, as we learned from I Samuel 15:23, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” This man committed a grievous sin, then, when he refused to obey the word of the LORD, and such rebellion amply justifies the extreme punishment the LORD inflicted upon him, when he was killed by a lion as soon as he left the presence of the prophet.

The man has even less of an excuse for his refusal to obey when we consider the next verse, I Kings 20:37, wherein one does obey the word of the LORD as it was given to him.

37. And he found another man, and said, “Strike me, please.” So the man struck him, inflicting a wound.

This second man was a submissive man, and not a rebel like the first man. He struck the prophet, and proved that no murder was implied in the command, as he struck him only to the point of inflicting a wound, and not to cause any further damage. The first man could easily have done the same, yet he refused. Perhaps he took a “hands off” attitude towards the affair, or did not desire the inconvenience if others learned he had struck a prophet. Whatever his reason, however, he rebelled, and such rebellion was far worse than striking a prophet. In fact, the greatest sin of striking a prophet normally would be that it was a sign that one was rejecting the word of the LORD being spoken through the prophet. Yet here, it was rejecting the word of the LORD that caused this man not to strike the prophet. It was not the command that was sin, but refusing the command that ultimately was a sinful act. Therefore, the larger issue of obedience takes precedence over what would normally be right and wrong in this case of “sin by command.”

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