The game of Yahtzee is a favorite at our house. In this intense game of chance, the player rolls five dice at the same time for three rolls and then wins points based on the combination of numbers acquired at the end of the turn. Of course, everyone always wants to roll five of the same digit, a yahtzee, worth fifty points in one turn. When my children were little, they would often ask if they could have another turn to roll the dice again, hoping that maybe one extra roll would get them that coveted yahtzee they so wanted to have.
Saul, king of Israel, played yahtzee with God one day. After Saul made an announcement that he wanted to take his army and plunder the Philistines during the night, the priest stopped him and suggested that perhaps he should find out what God thought about his action first. Saul said a quick prayer, but God did not answer him. So Saul decided there must be sin in the camp, making now a second announcement that whoever had sinned would die, even if it was his son Jonathan. Someone went to the cupboard and got out the Urim and Thummim, a method of selection used in the Old Testament on occasions to determine God’s will. After another sincere-sounding prayer by Saul, in which he acknowledged that God was not listening to him, the lots were cast and the lot fell before Jonathan. Stunned that Saul would kill his own son based on the roll of the dice, the army rose up and rescued Jonathan, stating, “As surely as God lives, not a hair on his head is going to be harmed. Jonathan has been working hand-in-hand with God all day.” (I Samuel 14:36-46, The MSG)
The army, the priest and Jonathan were all listening to God that day. Saul was the only one not listening to God and thus was ignored by God. Yet Saul was so determined to get his own way that he insisted on using spiritually acceptable methods to get what he wanted. While reading this story in Scripture this morning, I was appalled at the behavior of Saul. But then I had to stop and check my attitude. Is it possible that sometimes, while waiting for God’s answer to my prayer, I get impatient and roll the dice of my current circumstances to see what comes out on top, using that to make my choices? Do I line up a list of options before God that I like and then hope He will point a celestial arrow at one of my choices, giving me His divine OK? Hmm, when I see it that way, I stand guilty on all counts.
In contrast to Saul, Jonathan had been walking in God’s will all day, so much so that the entire army knew it. Jonathan had not sinned; he had simply not heard one of his father’s irrational edicts that morning. The army protected Jonathan from his own father’s murderous intent, a murder that Saul had every intention of pinning on God, saying ,”It’s out of my hands – I can’t go against God, can I?” And therein lies another danger of spiritual yahtzee – when things do not go our way, we can lift up our hands in resignation as if we had no responsibility for the outcome, as if God was in charge of our missteps somehow.
So the next time I am tempted to play spiritual yahtzee instead of waiting for God to mark out a clear pathway for me to follow, I hope I remember this story of Saul. I hope I slow down and find out what God is thinking, instead of looking for God’s approval of what I am thinking. Finding out what God is thinking first is sure to be a game winner every time!