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January 12, 2023

Obedience Over Sacrifice


But I did it for You

Today, we’re going to read from one of my favorite books in the bible, 1 Samuel. In chapter 15, we read a story about the prophet Samuel’s instructions from God to King Saul before going into battle with the Amalekites. Through Samuel, God specifically told Saul in verse three 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.” However, Saul killed everything except Agag, kind of the Amalekites, and the best of the sheep and cattle (v. 8-9). We pick up again starting in verse 10:

10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night. 12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” 13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” 16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” “Tell me,” Saul replied. 17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”
20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 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.” 22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23  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.”

Growing up, have you ever done something that you thought was a good idea but it turns out it wasn’t? Like trying to help your mom cook but you only made it worse? And it wasn’t like you didn’t have good intentions – you just didn’t do what you were asked. And in some circumstances, it could ruin the whole thing. I had read this story before, but it wasn’t until recently that I read this story and it hit me:

Obedience is better than sacrifice.

When Samuel told King Saul this, it was strange to me because those two things don’t seem contradictory or up for comparison. I could see him saying something like, “Obedience is better than selfishness.” But Paul says “To obey is better than sacrifice.” When I read further, it made more sense as to what Samuel was alluding to. In verse 23 he’s basically saying that rebelling against God – not obeying his commands – is as bad as witchcraft and being stubborn is as bad as worshiping idols. Why is he being so extreme in this?

You see, the act of Saul keeping some animals to sacrifice to God wasn’t necessarily wrong – but in this circumstance it was wrong because God specifically told Saul to destroy everything. By Saul not obeying God, he was showing that he thought his ways were better than God’s ways. This small act of rebellion revealed a deep character flaw within King Saul. If he couldn’t follow this simple command from God, then he wouldn’t be able to obey God in even bigger matters. Therefore, Saul was no longer fit to lead as King of Israel. And if you read further into 1 Samuel, you discover that once David steps on the scene, Saul’s true colors definitely come out. He tries to kill David multiple times, the one anointed to be King of Israel after Saul’s reign.

After reading this story, I know some of us may think, “Yeah, well I’m definitely not like Saul – I wouldn’t rebel against God or try to kill anybody…” But if you think about it, we disobey God all the time. Disobedience is rebellion. This could be as simple as not talking to someone the Holy Spirit prompted you to talk to, or not giving the amount of money He asked you to give to someone in need. Thankfully, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God is gracious to forgive us when we do sin. He doesn’t reject us or forsake us. We don’t have to work our way to God – He’s already near. But for us to be closer to Him, all He asks is for us to obey Him and His Word.

May we never try to take anything into our own hands – thinking that we know better than God.

Whether that be how we manage our money, how we lead our families, how we do our jobs, or how we serve others. Instead of just acting on what you think is best, ask God, “Is this what you want me to do? How do you want me to lead? How do you want me to serve?”

“‘Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.’” Luke 6:46-49 (NIV)

When God asks us to obey Him, He’s not doing it for a power trip. He asks us to obey Him because it is how He protects us, and it’s how we show our love for Him. He knows best. Not us. We may not always understand why He asks us to do the things He asks us to do, but that’s faith. That’s trusting our good Father – and that’s showing our love for Him. He wants us to build a strong foundation – built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. And that comes not just by hearing the Word of God, but by doing what He says. So the next time we say something like, “I did this for you” to God, may we have clean hands and a pure heart. May it not be for our own benefit, but for the glory of God. It’s because that’s what He asked of us – not because we thought it was what’s best. Trust God, obey Him, and watch how His blessings and favor flow all the days of your life.

"'Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.'” John 14:21 (NLT)
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