Delayed Obedience Is Disobedience (Except When It Isn’t)

Delayed Obedience Is Disobedience (Except When It Isn’t)

And the lesson, perhaps, is that acting with wisdom, even in turning away from disobedience to pursue obedience, sometimes takes time—time to listen, time to examine, time to ponder, time to pray. In such situations it is better to act slowly and correctly than to risk compounding sin upon sin, pain upon pain. Delayed obedience, it seems, is sometimes not disobedience at all.

You’ve probably heard the phrase before. You’ve probably applied it to your children. You’ve hopefully applied it to yourself. Delayed obedience is disobedience. The phrase exhorts us that when we know the right thing to do, it is sinful to fail to do it. Or as we instruct our little ones: Do it now; do it all the way; and do it with a happy heart.

But is it invariably wrong to delay obedience? Is delayed obedience always disobedience?

My Bible reading this week took me to the closing chapters of Ezra which tells of God’s people leaving their exile and returning to Jerusalem. No sooner do they return than they become convicted that they have sinned against God by intermarrying with foreigners. Ezra records that “after these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, ‘The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations … for they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands.”

Ezra leads the people in a powerful prayer of confession and the people are cut to the heart. They repent of their sin and make a covenant that they will separate themselves from these foreign wives and their children. “Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath.”

And then, because delayed obedience is disobedience, they immediately took action and drove away the foreign women on that very day, right? No, that wasn’t it at all.

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