And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams. — 1 Samuel 15:22
My father gave me a bit of advice when I embarked on my first experience as an employee, and his words illustrate the importance of heeding those in authority over us. He said, “You may not always agree with your boss’s instructions or methods, but perform as instructed just because he is your boss and he signs your check!” He was not referring to being asked to do something sinful or illegal, of course. He was warning me not to do things in my own way, but rather to simply follow directions.
How often people desire to substitute some other action for obedience! Yet, “obedience is better than sacrifice.” Any number of good works or positive actions cannot take the place of following instructions. This is especially true when it comes to yielding ourselves to God and doing His will.
One man testifies of how sinful and desperately unhappy he was. He said, “I thought I was going to lose my mind. Hoping to shake the feeling, I started going to church. I thought that maybe giving money to the church would help. I even tried to ‘help the poor’ by making about fifty bologna sandwiches to take downtown and hand out to the street people. Nothing helped.” He was trying to rid himself of guilt by making “sacrifices.”
This man came to a church service one evening, and the minister asked, “Who are you serving?” The man knew that he was not serving God. At the end of that service, he went forward to an altar of prayer and cried out from the depths of his soul, “God, have mercy on me!” God answered and changed his life. He found out that obedience to God was what mattered.
In today’s text, Saul had followed his own judgment and the will of the people rather than obeying God. He told Samuel that they had saved the cattle to sacrifice them to God. However, God was looking for obedience, not Saul’s excuses and plans.
God is looking for obedience in our lives too. Let’s do what God says to do today!
In this chapter, God gave Saul another opportunity to choose complete obedience to His instructions. Explicit commands were given, but verse 9 gives an accurate account of what actually transpired.
To “utterly destroy” may seem like a harsh directive, but the Amalekites lived by using guerrilla terrorist tactics. They attacked nations and took their riches and families. Descendents of Esau, they first fought the Children of Israel not long after the exodus from Egypt. After Israel arrived in the Promised Land, the Amalekites attacked them, and continued their raids whenever they possibly could. They wanted to wipe out Israel. Additionally, their idolatry was a threat to Israel’s obedience to God.
Saul’s actions were a direct violation of God’s commands. Then Saul was hypocritical enough to tell Samuel that he had followed God’s directions. When Samuel challenged him, Saul blamed the people.
When God said, “It repenteth me” in verse 11, He was not indicating He had made a mistake in making Saul king, but He was expressing His sorrow at Saul’s disobedience. Later in verse 29, Samuel said that God would not repent, meaning He would not change His mind or His course of action.
“To obey is better than sacrifice” is a phrase that defines a Biblical principle — giving something to God cannot replace a heartfelt desire to do God’s will. How could Saul expect God to accept sacrifices of animals that God had commanded should be killed? Samuel’s words were not discounting the Law and Israel’s worship system. Rather, he was challenging Saul to look at his own hypocrisy.
Although Saul finally said, “I have sinned,” a truly contrite admission of guilt before God never took place. Verse 30 reveals that Saul wanted to save his reputation as king. He was more concerned about heeding the people than he was about obeying God. His rebellion cost him the kingdom.
Samuel’s execution of King Agag in verse 33 reveals an action that might seem out of character for him, since it was done in such a gruesome manner. However, Samuel was God’s appointed judge and priest. Saul had failed to follow God’s commands, but Samuel was obedient and made sure that God’s instructions were accomplished.
Note Samuel’s grief for Saul and his legacy of failed assignments.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The reign of Saul
A. The rise of King Saul
6. Saul’s failure and rejection as king (15:1-35)
a. Samuel’s instructions to destroy Amalek (15:1-3)
b. Saul’s defeat of the Amalekites (15:4-9)
c. Samuel’s disclosure of Saul’s failure (15:10-19)
d. Saul’s reply (15:20-24)
(1) His excuse (15:20-23)
(2) His request for forgiveness (15:24)
e. Saul’s rejection by the Lord (15:25-31)
f. Samuel’s slaying of Agag (15:32-35)
God is looking for those who will obey Him. Will you?