Saul had heard the word of the Lord, but thought he had a better idea. He was supposed to destroy the Amalekites completely, taking no plunder, but instead he spared the best of the sheep and cattle “to sacrifice to the Lord.” This might seem like a noble gesture on Saul’s part, wanting to sacrifice to the Lord. Sacrifice in this sense is actually an attempt to gain independence from God. If we sacrifice for him, then we have put him in our debt. If we sacrifice for God, he owes us something. Sacrifice is a way of “buying” whatever we want to get from God (protection, deliverance, provision, and favor), while at the same time remaining independent from him. We demand good things from God, but we retain our right to do what we want with our lives. We just need to make sure we throw a few sacrifice to God’s way every once in a while to keep him at bay. This is the attitude of sacrifice that Saul personified. Obedience, however, is the response of someone who is in a relationship of trust with God. We trust God, we depend on him, we are interactive with him, but he takes the lead. Obedience is better than sacrifice because we are letting God be God and staying in our proper place with him, the place of dependence and surrender to his goodness. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul chose to keep the Amalekite king Agag alive and took the plunder from the battle rather than destroy everything as God had commanded. When Samuel confronted him, Saul said, “I did obey the Lord. . . . I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:20–21).Samuel answered in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?
Why is obedience better than sacrifice?
The first answer is offered in Samuel’s response: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, / and arrogance like the evil of idolatry, because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:23). Saul’s disobedience was an act of rebellion, iniquity (sin), and idolatry. The second reason why obedience is better than sacrifice is offered in Saul’s confession.
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