OBEDIENCE; OBEY [isbe]
- o-be'-di-ens, o-ba (shama`; hupakoe):
1. Meaning of Terms:
In its simpler Old Testament meaning the word signifies "to hear," "to listen." It carries with it, however, the ethical significance of hearing with reverence and obedient assent. In the New Testament a different origin is suggestive of "hearing under" or of subordinating one's self to the person or thing heard, hence, "to obey." There is another New Testament usage, however, indicating persuasion from, peithomai.
The relation expressed is twofold: first, human, as between master and servant, and particularly between parents and children. "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, that, will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and, though they chasten him, will not hearken unto them; then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place" (Dt 21:18,19; compare Prov 15:20); or between sovereign and subjects, "The foreigners shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me" (2 Sam 22:45; 1 Ch 29:23).
2. The Old Testament Conception:
The highest significance of its usage, however, is that of the relation of man to God. Obedience is the supreme test of faith in God and reverence for Him. The Old Testament conception of obedience was vital. It was the one important relationship which must not be broken. While sometimes this relation may have been formal and cold, it nevertheless was the one strong tie which held the people close to God. The significant spiritual relation is expressed by Samuel when he asks the question, "Hath Yahweh as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam 15:22). It was the condition without which no right relation might be sustained to Yahweh. This is most clearly stated in the relation between Abraham and Yahweh when he is assured "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen 22:18).
In prophetic utterances, future blessing and prosperity were conditioned upon obedience: "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land" (Isa 1:19). After surveying the glories of the Messianic kingdom, the prophet assures the people that "this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of Yahweh your God" (Zec 6:15). On the other hand misfortune, calamity, distress and famine are due to their disobedience and distrust of Yahweh.
This obedience or disobedience was usually related to the specific commands of Yahweh as contained in the law, yet they conceived of God as giving commands by other means. Note especially the rebuke of Samuel to Saul: "Because thou obeyedst not the voice of Yahweh, .... therefore hath Yahweh done this thing unto thee this day" (1 Sam 28:18).
3. The New Testament Conception:
In the New Testament a higher spiritual and moral relation is sustained than in the Old Testament. The importance of obedience is just as greatly emphasized. Christ Himself is its one great illustration of obedience. He "humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (Phil 2:8). By obedience to Him we are through Him made partakers of His salvation (Heb 5:9). This act is a supreme test of faith in Christ. Indeed, it is so vitally related that they are in some cases almost synonymous. "Obedience of faith" is a combination used by Paul to express this idea (Rom 1:5). Peter designates believers in Christ as "children of obedience" (1 Pet 1:14). Thus it is seen that the test of fellowship with Yahweh in the Old Testament is obedience. The bond of union with Christ in the New Testament is obedience through faith, by which they become identified and the believer becomes a disciple.
Walter G. Clippinger