To obey or be obedient are actions based upon belief. The association with belief, an active hearing of God’s word, is to be noted in this study. The words from the Hebrew and Greek will prove this.
For example, in Genesis 3:8, 10, 17. “They [heard] the sound of the Lord…So he [Adam] said, ‘I [heard] Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked…Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it.” These three examples of the same Hebrew word sama translated “heard” or “heeded,” in the context refer to their disobedience to God. The same word is translated “obey” 81 times and “obedient” 8 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Similarly in John 3:36, the Greek word apitheo translated believe not, can be translated disobey or disobedient. Acts 14:2 states that the Jews were “unbelieving,” but we might say they were “‘disobedient’ and stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.” This same word is translated in Hebrews 3:18 “did not obey.” The application here is to the Israelites who were “unbelieving.” They were disobedient and could not enter God’s rest. In Hebrews 11:31, of Rahab the harlot, it translates this same word: “Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe…”.
You can see the association and application of the language. To hear intelligently and believe to the act of obedience or being disobedient are both ideas implicit. A final passage demonstrates this very well. First Peter 2:7-8: “Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone, and a Stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” Peter’s passage illustrates this idea perfectly.
Consider 1 Samuel 15:22-23: “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. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” This is the same word used in Genesis 3. It is used 1,165 times in the scripture and is most often translated “hear” (785 times). It always emphasizes hearing with attention, interest, to understand, and listen by giving heed. Another example in Ecclesiastes 9:17: “Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard (obeyed) rather than the shout of a ruler of fools.”
Samuel’s rebuke of Saul is because he did not “trust and obey” God’s instructions completely. Saul did not hear/heed with any serious attention to the wisdom of God. In 1 Samuel 15:14, Samuel questions: “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Samuel heard and had a precise understanding of Saul’s disobedience.
King Saul was guilty of the same sin Jesus marked the scribes and Pharisees with: “…making the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophecy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matt. 15:6-9; et al.). This always starts with inattention to the authority of God.
A final passage to consider is in John 14:15: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The word “keep” is tereo in the Greek. It means “to attend to carefully, take care of, to guard, observe and to reserve as in undergoing something.” I point this out because it is associated with obeying or “keeping” God’s commands. Second Thessalonians 1:8, the word hypakouo is translated “obey,” and is a reference to “obeying the gospel.” The definition is “to listen or to harken.” Obedience implies listening, hearing, and accurately taking the information and “obeying” or “heeding” the instruction. This is the same word used in reference to Jesus’ authority over the winds and sea obeying Him when stilling the storm over the sea of Galilee (Cf., Matt 8:27; et al. Mark 1:27; 4:41; Luke 8:25; 17:6; Acts 6:7).
Romans 6:17 states: “But God be thanked that though you were the slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” This is the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 1:8. To be obedient is based upon clearly hearing and understanding accurately God’s authority, which will always lead to a great reward and blessings eternal. As with Adam and Eve, King Saul and Samuel, and the Christians in the first century, our obedience to God’s authority is necessary and beneficial. If we continue rooted and grounded in the faith, we will be blessed eternally!