Sunday, May 15, 2011


In 1Samuel 15, King Saul disobeys the Lord's command, as given through His prophet Samuel, to utterly destroy all of the Amalekites, including all of their livestock as punishment for how they treated Israel when they were coming out of Egypt.  Instead, King Saul allows the people to take the choice livestock for sacrifice as well as keeps King Agag, the king of the Amalekites, alive after the battle.  The Lord responds through Samuel in 1Samuel 15:22-23,
"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, and to heed than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king."
 This passage raises many thoughts for me which I will share.  First, I wondered at the question that Samuel asks.  'Does God desire burnt offerings or obedience more?' is the basic idea of his question.  The question is posed and then immediately answered with, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams."  Once we understand that obedience is better than sacrifice we must ask, 'Why?'.  Why, if God instituted the sacrificial system in the Law of Moses, would He desire obedience more than sacrifice?  I mean, why isn't God indifferent to whether or not we obey or sacrifice.  Either one makes the account even right?  If I obey, there is no sin to atone for and if I sacrifice than the sin is atoned for and so why does God care about which one I do?  The answer is quite simple really.  Think of the beginning.  Genesis 1:31 says,
"God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day."
Everything God had made was very good!  Why was it very good?  Because all of creation was doing what God had commanded, without question, otherwise known as, OBEDIENCE.  From the beginning, God has always been a being worthy of being obeyed.  His immense worth cannot be put into words in my simple blog here, but we must understand some things about God, otherwise we will not understand His commands given in the Bible.

God is righteous and good, but not in the sense that you might say that a man is good.  If someone were to look at me and say, 'That guy is pretty good', it would be based on my actions.  And how would he know that my actions were good?  Because God said that those sort of things that this person has observed in my life were good.  With God, this is not so.  We do not look at God's actions and say, 'Based on God's actions He is good', rather, it is a statement of fact that 'He is good' and therefore everything that He does will be good, no matter what He does.  There is no standard with which to judge Him because He is the standard by which all things are judged.  So, when God says, it is all very good, it is because He has done the thing called 'very good' and not because He has done something already judged good.  This being true makes God worthy.  Why shouldn't we obey Him?  He is good.  Always good.  Eternally good.  He is also all-powerful, meaning that if He does something that is contrary to what we desire, it is still good and we ought to obey Him because there is no force that will overcome Him nor His will and if we are found on a side other than His, it can only mean judgment.  He is so good that this obedience ought not be feigned obedience, but an obedience that truly envelopes all of your soul, mind and body.  He is all-knowing, meaning that He can see past feigned obedience and knows the hearts of hypocrites.  Think not that your outward obedience without your entire heart behind your actions is anything good, rather it is what Thomas Watson called, 'double wickedness'.

So, in the beginning, God made all things and all things recognized Him as God through their obedience of Him and this is what God labeled, 'very good'.  This is one reason why God desires obedience more than sacrifice.  It should also be noted that the sacrifices that King Saul desired to offer, through disobedience is sort of an oxymoron.  He disobeyed, so that he could sacrifice.  The sacrificial system was put into place by God as a picture of humanities need for real atonement.  And he went out of his way to seek this picture of atonement, by actually adding more sin to his need for real atonement!  What great foolishness this was!

Another reason, and probably the greater reason (my opinion), is that the sacrificial system pictures the death of God's very Son, Jesus Christ.  Obedience is not something that ever crucified Him, but disobedience is the reason Jesus came, to atone for our disobedience.  And so you would see how God would rather you obey than offer up animal sacrifices.  He wants our obedience, not some picture of His mercy.  He wants us to know about His mercy and obey because He is good.

On a side note, Samuel uses the phrase, 'to heed than the fat of rams.  'Fat' is something mentioned numerous times in Leviticus while God delivers the sacrificial system to Israel through Moses.  The following verses mention what the priests are to do with the fat of the animals:
Leviticus 3:3,4,9,10,14,15,16,17
Leviticus 4:8,9,19,26,31,35
Leviticus 6:12
Leviticus 7:3,4,23,24,25,31
The topic of the fat involved in the sacrifices is a whole other topic for another blog, another day, but I only wanted to point out that Samuel was saying something specific here.  I quote one passage to make my point: Leviticus 3:16
"The priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire for a soothing aroma; all fat is the LORD'S."
Even though the Lord had laid claim to all the fat in the sacrifices, it is told us in our text that God would rather you 'heed', than offer Him the fat portion.

He then goes on to tell Saul that 'Rebellion is as the sin, divination and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.'  The question that arises is, 'How so?'  How is rebellion as the sin, divination?  How is insubordination as iniquity and idolatry?  To answer this, I would say that what Saul did was rebellion.  He rebelled against the command of the Lord through disobedience and this is the same attitude that the person has who utilizes divination for its supposed benefits.  Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of a ritual.  This is to turn from God for guidance and look to things outside of Him for answers.  It is rebellion in its purest sense.  And so God, through Samuel, is telling Saul, 'You are no better than diviners.'  Insubordination is not keeping your place underneath your superiors.  This is the same heart as an idolater.  Idolaters ought to be subordinate to God, but instead seek to worship other gods, and this is insubordination.  Again, God is, through Samuel, telling Saul 'You are no better than an idolater'.

And so God rips the kingdom of Israel from Saul, and rightfully so.  His disobedience ought not be honored by God and frankly neither should ours.  The application is simple.  Let us not think that God cannot rip from us the things we believe are ours, namely, our salvation because of our disobedience.  Let's not build a theological wall around our salvation so we do not see the reality of falling away just as Saul did.  Hebrews 6:6-8 is clear enough:

 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

Obedience is better than sacrifice.  Obey the Lord by the power of the Spirit and you will not have to continue on in the patterns of sin that you are facing.  1John 2:1 says, My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous'.  Notice, we do have an advocate with the Father for us, but he first says, he is writing to us that we may not sin.  Let us seek to be obedient and not just assume there will be sacrifice for us after we have disobeyed.


  1. That was a helpful post. It's come to mind quite a number of times since Sunday. While I've considered that verse in the past never gotten this much from it. It's good how you guys & the others in the church think so hard about things in the Word. I feel like I'm so bad at that, but the example of everyone in the church studying the Bible so diligently encourages me to try harder.

    {I often end up rabbit trailing around while commenting. If that makes the comment I leave here to be annoyingling off-topic or if they'd just be better off more consise (?), don't hestiate to say. I'm always up for advice on writing improvement.}

  2. Amy, I have a book you can borrow if you would like. It has helped me tremendously in my study habits. It is called, "Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God" by John Piper. In it, he teaches how the heart and mind work together to think and learn with the goal of glorfying God. It is less about 180 pages and is a fairly quick read. If you are interested, let me know.

    To be sure, this book will hand you a wider and sharper shovel so you can dig deeper and break up the great rockiness in your mind as you engage the Word of God for the sake of finding truth. God be glorified!

  3. It sounds like a helpful book; so yes, if neither of you are reading it at the moment I'd be interested in doing so. Thanks for the offer.