1 Samuel 15 To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

March 24, 2018 at 10:38 AM

For those who are not aware where the title of this article came from, but know it’s in the Bible somewhere, take a trip back in time with me to 1 Samuel 15 where we “hear” it said for the first time by Samuel, a man who became a priest/judge for Israel after being promised to Hannah after years of barrenness. Samuel was trained by Eli, who was ultimately rejected as priest by God. He, along with his sons – Hophni and Phineahas – all died on the same day. The sons were killed in a battle of sorts and Eli broke his neck after falling backwards in his chair due to his obesity.

Samuel served the Lord faithfully for many years, though the same cannot be said about his own two sons who accepted bribes as priests. When Samuel first learned of Israel’s desire to have a king over that nation, he was angry. God told him that he (Samuel) should go ahead and give Israel what they wanted because it was not Samuel that Israel had rejected, but God Almighty. Samuel obeyed God and Saul became the first king over Israel.

Saul had problems nearly from the start though and there were several areas in which he failed God. It was on one of these occasions that we read in 1 Samuel 15 where God decides resolutely to reject Saul as king. Ultimately, Saul ended up reigning for 40 years (the same amount of time that King David reigned), but after God rejected Saul, his reign was filled with despair, frustration, and evil spirits tormenting him. It wasn’t pretty and in fact, it was quite ugly and maybe we’ll cover some of that soon.

In the meantime, in 1 Samuel 15, Samuel reminds King Saul of the mission that God had appointed him to accomplish. He was supposed to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys,” (1 Samuel 15:3 NIV). It seemed pretty straightforward. Saul was to go in without mercy and destroy everyone and everything. I know that sounds very harsh but as we’ve explained in previous articles, God was using Israel as an arm of His judgment against these wayward nations that not only refused to acknowledge Him as God, but also participated in the most heinous, gruesome rituals of sacrifice (including children), to various false gods. God also knew that allowing these people to remain alive would eventually ensnare the people of Israel. They would become enamored with these false gods and pagan sacrificial rites and would begin incorporating them into their daily lives. This happened repeatedly with the Israelites. God knew that the only way to absolutely ensure that they did not start copying the pagan rituals was to without fail eliminate the people that worshiped those false gods. If they weren’t around as examples of false worship, they couldn’t be mirrored or duplicated within Israel.

However, when Saul went in to fight and conquer the Amalekites, he failed to do everything to the nth degree required by God. Imagine being a highly-skilled military person, trained specifically to go into an area, fulfill a mission and disappear from that area without ever being seen. No one was to know that you were there and the only thing that would let anyone know that someone had been there was seen in the way things were left. By then, you’re long gone. But imagine if you were sent in by high command and you deviated from the mission. What would happen? Quite possibly, you would be discovered and your mission could fail. It would also mean a possible court-martial. Any good soldier would do everything possible to avoid this, so he/she would stick to the preordained plan to a “t” without any derivation.

This was not the way Saul handled his mission from God. He cut some corners, put his own spin on things, decided he didn’t need to obey to the nth degree all the things that God had told him. Instead of completely destroying “all that belongs to” the Amalekites, Saul did something else.

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed. (1 Samuel 15:9 NIV)

Saul made several mistakes here. First, he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Then Saul kept the “best of the sheep, cattle, and fat calves and lambs.” In other words, Saul kept everything he thought was good to add to what Israel already had. Notice the next sentence, “These they were unwilling to destroy completely…” That word “unwilling” speaks of rebellion. Saul decided that he knew better than God did. He felt that as king he could ultimately decide what part (if any) of God’s dictates he would obey. God wanted someone who would do His bidding in every way. Saul failed the test completely. The next verse tells us of God’s reaction.

I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions. (1 Samuel 15:11 NIV)

The word “regret” is an interesting one. It does not necessarily mean that God had “changed” His mind about Saul because the implication would be that God hadn’t seen it coming. This was not the case. Regret is a human word that describes human beings who have a change of heart about something. They are overcome with a negative feeling about something they once had faith in and because of this “about-face,” they act. It’s nuanced, as Constable explains.

God regretted that He had made Saul king (v. 11) because of Saul’s actions, not because God felt He had made a mistake in calling Saul. Saul’s failure to follow God faithfully also broke Samuel’s heart. The disobedience of leaders always grieves the hearts of God’s faithful servants.

As we continue to read through the book of 1 Samuel, we learn how great was Saul’s fall. While he started out trusting the Lord, submitting himself to His plans, he increasingly leaned onto his own understanding, rather than submitting himself in every way to God. This created the problem of a rebellious spirit, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It becomes clear that Saul grew more important in his own eyes. Yet with that arrogant outlook, he also became more erratic and obnoxious.

Part of Saul’s problem here was that Saul likely feared the people. They wanted to keep the good stuff for themselves and Saul went along with it, likely to procure favor from them toward him. By doing so, he was actually showing fear of those over which God had placed him to rule. This is not the characteristic of a good leader. It is the characteristic of someone who wants to “buy” the loyalty of the people. Saul was showing that he didn’t want to make the hard decisions that might ultimately lead to a climax with the people of Israel.

If we compare Saul’s reign with Moses’ leadership, we can clearly see the difference. While Moses got angry with the people often and continued to submit himself to the Lord so that God’s will would be done in and through Moses (even when the people threatened to stone him to death on more than one occasion), Saul gave in to his fears that if he did not go along with the people, they might overthrow him.

Saul was proving he was not the leader God had intended him to be. Saul had the choice. He could wait on God, follow His direction and will for his life and see great things or Saul could succumb to his fears and try to figure things out on his own. The latter choice always leads to frustration and eventually failure.

Rather than being hard on Saul, we should actually use this information to take note and stock of our own lives. Are we headstrong as Saul? Did we start out on the right foot, trusting the Lord, only to fall to becoming once again enslaved to our own passions and sin? This is something we need to earnestly inspect in our own lives. We must ask the Lord to shine His light into the dark recesses of our heart and mind so that we will know where we are failing to trust God.

Starting in 1 Samuel 15:20, Saul tries to defend himself and his actions.

And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:20-21 ESV)

Notice here Saul disagrees with Samuel saying that he did do what the Lord told him to do. Notice also in verse 21, Saul blames the people for taking the spoil that the Lord directed them not to take. In reality, Saul actually admitted that he did not follow the Lord’s instructions to a “t” either because he kept King Agag alive, but God had said everything was to be destroyed. Saul was lying whether he knew it or not.

Samuel’s response to Saul should be an arrow to our hearts as well.

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 listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king. (1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV)

Is that sad or what? Imagine being Saul and hearing those words. Tragic. However, we need to read those words and also take them to our own hearts. We think that because we do things that are sacrificial, God is pleased. Ultimately, God wants our obedience. Samuel says “to obey is better than sacrifice…” This means to obey from the heart. We are to do all that the Lord requires of us. This is essentially what we are promising to do when we become Christians in the first place. God wants our obedience and He wants to see it from our hearts, doesn’t He? We all know this is true, but it is difficult to follow through at times.

Our sin nature will do whatever it can to keep us from obeying God. At every turn it’ll throw a monkey wrench into things, in an attempt to draw us off the path of obedience. We can focus so much on being obedient though that we lose sight of the reason why we are to obey. It can become rote or a “have to” thing, as opposed to a real desire to please God in our lives.

Just as Saul made excuses for his own failure, we can do that. We probably do it too often. The difference between Saul and us is that God will not take His Holy Spirit away from us. He will not utterly reject us. Jesus promised to never leave or forsake us and He meant that. Romans 8 opens with a promise and closes with one as well.

We, the redeemed of the Lord, are bound to make mistakes in this life. Saul tried to make “amends” with God but he did so by making excuses for himself. Had he simply and fully repented accepting full responsibility for his actions, God may have not only forgiven him, but kept him as king. Unfortunately, he proved to God that not only was he unable to follow God’s complete instructions, but he then tried to excuse himself for his own failure.

Folks, as Christians, we cannot adopt this attitude. We cannot decide that we will obey God in the “easy” things but ignore the “hard” things. We must be sold out to Him as He literally sold Himself out for us. It is interesting that Samuel equates a lack of obedience with the sin of divination. It’s all a form of self worship and it is interesting that the final straw on Saul’s back was his attempt to learn God’s will by seeing the Witch of Endor later on. He went from rebellion to actual divination.

To obey God in all things is far better than simply bringing Him a sacrifice. You cannot live for the world during the week, but attend church on Sunday and toss a nice sum into the offering plate thinking that you’re “covered.” God won’t honor that. He wants our lives to match His will and for that to occur, we must adopt a willing spirit to obey God in all things, not in a legalistic way of living, but in a way that deigns to please our Lord.

Entry filed under: Atheism and religion, christianity, Demonic, devil worship, israel, Judaism, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation, Satanism. Tags: , .

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