Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to heed than the fat of rams.”
1 Samuel 15:22
God speaks to Samuel and tells him to let Saul know that it is time for the Israelites to make war with the Amalekites. Samuel tells Saul, informing him that God wants this to be an instance of total war, i.e. every living Amalekite thing — people, livestock, the works — was to be killed.
Saul gets the army together and heads over to the territory of the Amalekites where he warns another group, the Kenites, to get out before the fighting starts. Nothing wrong so far. Saul and the army are victorious over the Amalekites. Still nothing wrong. Then Saul and the people decide to keep the king of the Amalekites alive and to spare the best of the livestock. It is at this point that they have done something wrong. It comes down to what James writes in James 4:17 Therefore, to one who knows [the] right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. Saul knew what he was supposed to do and he did not do it.
God speaks to Samuel again, letting the prophet know that Saul has grieved God with his pattern of disobedience. So, Samuel heads down to Saul’s camp and asks why he hears livestock making noise when Saul was supposed to kill every living thing in Amalekite territory. Saul makes an excuse about wanting to sacrifice the best to God and Samuel responds to that with this morning’s verse and more. Samuel asks a pointed question: Is God as pleased with sacrifice as He is with obedience? The answer is “No. He is not.”
Sacrifice, if I understand The Law correctly, is only really necessary because of our disobedience. We disobey and this disobedience interferes with the relationship between us and God. So a sacrifice is made to restore fellowship with Him. But no sacrifice is necessary if we simply obey. Obedience does not interfere with the relationship, it strengthens it. What Samuel tells Saul is not some theological mystery, but a common sense conclusion that anyone might reach if they took the time to understand what God has said.
Which brings me to the question: Am I obeying or sacrificing? If I obey, then my relationship with God grows stronger and healthier. If I do not obey, then the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is sufficient to cleanse me from my disobedience and set things right between God and me. But to obey is better. Obedience was better for Saul and obedience remains better still.
Thank You, Father, for the forgiveness supplied by the cross. Please give me an obedient heart and mind and will; a self that delights to obey and finds disobedience repulsive.