But Samuel replied:
Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
The books of Samuel are part of a string of historical books in the Old Testament, recounting the events that surround Samuel, Saul and David. In 1 Samuel 15, the disobedience of Saul eventually led to God’s rejection of him as King. Through the prophet Samuel, God had instructed Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belong to them – and while Saul defeated them and killed all the people, he spared their king, and plundered everything that was good to be sacrificed to the Lord. When confronted by Samuel later on, Saul insisted that he had obeyed. In this study, we will examine the obedience that pleases God.
Samuel asked a rhetorical question – Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Of course not. Why is sacrifice so important in this case that it has to be compared with obedience? In this context, why did Saul disobey God? Saul disobeyed God by not destroying the good cattle, instead plundering them to sacrifice to God. In his own defence, Saul claimed that he did not destroy everything only because he took the best in order to sacrifice to God. The cattle that had been sacrificed were unlikely to be the only thing that Saul did not destroy. However, in his self-righteous argument, he only focused on having sacrificed the cattle to please God.
Obedience is never partial. If a parent instructed a child to sweep the floor and wipe the windows, and the child swept the floor but did not wipe the windows, it is disobedience. If a parent instructed a child to wipe all the windows, and the child wiped all but one window – it is disobedience – but the child can get away with it if the parent did not notice. However, God never fails to notice what we desperately try to hide from him. 80% of obedience and 20% of disobedience = disobedience. Was Saul disobedient? Yes. Could Saul have been even more disobedient in the eyes of men – yes. Saul could have left all the women alive. He could have left the people alive. He could have totally disregarded the instructions. Often, that is our problem. We follow God’s instructions indeed, but not completely, not to the very end.
Obedience is necessary because God is worthy. Because God is worthy, we fear him more than we fear Men. Because God is worthy, we desire to please him more than we desire to please ourselves or please Men. Because God is worthy, we will not complain even as we do as he commanded. Because God is worthy, we can follow a command to the very end. Because God is worthy, we can obey. But we need to first know that God is worthy.
What about sacrifice? In this case it represents the ceremonial. What we do for show. What we do to show other people that we’re pleasing God. Today we do a lot of sacrifices without cattle. It makes us look like we have done a lot for the Lord. It makes us look like we’re pleasing to God. We spend a lot of time preparing a presentation to tell people what we have achieved in our missions, our ministries, our work for God. These things may fool the smartest of men, but they can never fool God’s eyes.
Sometimes God’s commandments are difficult to understand and difficult to follow. It is human nature for the victor to plunder the loser – why kill all these cattle and leave all the money when you can just take it? It’s rightfully yours since you won the battle! We battle temptations of all kinds every living second of our lives. We don’t only need an intimate relationship with the Lord rooted in love and knowledge – so that we know that God is worthy; we also need the discipline to keep focused and stay alert to God’s word and the stamina to persist until the very end.