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Obedience Over Sacrifice

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1 Samuel 15:1-24

Saul Defeats the Amalekites

One day Samuel said to Saul, “It was the LORD who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the LORD! 2 This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. 3 Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.”

4 So Saul mobilized his army at Telaim. There were 200,000 soldiers from Israel and 10,000 men from Judah. 5 Then Saul and his army went to a town of the Amalekites and lay in wait in the valley. 6 Saul sent this warning to the Kenites: “Move away from where the Amalekites live, or you will die with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites packed up and left.

7 Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. 8 He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. 9 Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.

The LORD Rejects Saul

10 Then the LORD said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the LORD all night.

12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the LORD bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the LORD’s command!”

14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the LORD your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the LORD told me last night!”

“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.

17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The LORD has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the LORD sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the LORD? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the LORD’s sight?”

20 “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the LORD:

your burnt offerings and sacrifices

or your obedience to his voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,

and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,

and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.

So because you have rejected the command of the LORD,

he has rejected you as king.”

Saul Pleads for Forgiveness

24 Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the LORD’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. 25 But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the LORD.”

Why Did God Tell Saul to Destroy the Amalekites?

The first thing that stands out to most of us when reading this narrative is how God is instructing Saul to destroy the Amalekites. So who are the Amalekites and why did the Lord want to destroy them. While this is a comprehensive topic for the sake of time I will give you a brief summary.
Amalek was the son of Esau and his concubine Timma. Esau was Jacob’s brother and sworn enemy so Amalek most likely grew up in a household where he learned to hate Jacob and his descendants much as his father Esau had done. Amalek’s descendants became the nation of Amalek or the Amalekites and lived in Negev desert which was just south of the land of Israel.
We first see the nation of the Amalekites in Exodus 17:8-16. They were wondering in the desert and the Lord had just used Moses to perform the Miracle of making water flow from the rock at Massah and Meribah.
While the Jews were still resting at Rephidim a barren location in the Sinai Desert the nation of Amalek launched a vicious attack which came as a surprise because the Jews were not even headed in the direction or had any intention of going to Amalekite territory.

Israel Defeats the Amalekites

8 While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. 9 Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. 12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

14 After the victory, the LORD instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-nissi (which means “the LORD is my banner”). 16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the LORD’s throne, so now the LORD will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

So as the King of Israel Saul would have been familiar with the law and the scriptures and the Lord’s declaration to wipe out the Amalekites at the proper time.
Moses reminds Israel about this instruction in Deuteronomy 25:17-19

17 “Never forget what the Amalekites did to you as you came from Egypt. 18 They attacked you when you were exhausted and weary, and they struck down those who were straggling behind. They had no fear of God. 19 Therefore, when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies in the land he is giving you as a special possession, you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this!

So now that the Lord has given the promised land to Israel, they have had the time of the judges and now Saul is king it should not have come as any surprise to Saul that Samuel would deliver the word from the Lord that the time had come to fulfill the judgment on the Amalekites.

The Lord Gives Specific Instructions

Verses 1-3 show us that the Lord gave Saul specific instructions on how to do what He was asking him to do. As I stated earlier Saul would have had been familiar with the scriptures and known the history with the Amalekites and the Lords instructions and the reminder from Moses. Yet still the Lord was very specific on what He expected from Saul.
God provides us with the same benefits today. As we all know there are times when we will receive a specific word from the Lord but most of the time we need look no further than our Bibles to know the character of God, His promises to us and what how He wants us to live and what He wants us to do.
The Lord does not operate in confusion or hold us to an unattainable standard. Instead, God tells us very specifically how to live and only asks that we trust Him and obey Him. When we do that then He is faithful to keep His promises and blessing to us. A great example is Joshua 1:1-9 where the Lord promises that if we meditate on His word and apply it to our lives then we will be successful in all we do because He will be with us.
The life of Jesus is a perfect example of how we are supposed to live and what the Lord expects from us. Jesus demonstrated pure love, a servants heart, unwavering faith, a great knowledge of the word, helping those in need, unwavering courageousness and how to operate in the power of the Holy Spirit in all areas of our lives especially in the matters of prayer and performing miracles.
You see there will be times where the word from the Lord is challenging in the natural but we need to have faith and trust the Lord because He is God and we are not. He is perfect and His ways are perfect and we are to obey His word and trust that the outcome will be for His purposes.
Unfortunately Saul did not follow the Lord’s specific instructions but rather he did what the people pressured him to do by not destroying the best quality life stock and by keeping king Agag alive.

Obedience Over Sacrifice

Verse 10 with the Lord telling Samuel that He regrets making Saul king. God says that Saul has not been loyal to Him and refused to obey His commands.
This verse is a powerful reminder that if we do not remain obedient to the Lords commands then we are being disloyal to Him. I don’t know about you but I don’t ever want to be disloyal to Jesus. Not only is He the only all powerful God of the universe but I love Him and He has been so good to me that I cannot ever possible repay Him for all He has done.
From verse 12 we can see that Samuel goes to meet Saul and confront him on his disobedience. When Samuel finds Saul he is greeted warmly and Saul even remarks how he has fulfilled the Lords instructions. Samuel seems disgusted at this response as he can hear and the livestock.
That’s when Saul admits that he spared the best of the livestock but that he was going to sacrifice them to the Lord. Samuel is infuriated and tells Saul to stop talking and tries to explain to him why his actions were evil in the Lord’s sight. But Saul insists that he did what was asked of him and tries to justify it by saying the spoils of war were going to be sacrificed for the Lord.
Then Samuel tells Saul that obedience to the Lord is more pleasing than sacrifices and that submission to the Lord is better than the highest quality sacrifices we can offer.
Samuel goes on to tell Saul that rebellion against the Lord is as sinful as witchcraft and stubbornness is as bad as worshipping idols.
It is this lack of obedience which causes Saul to be rejected as King of Israel and to be replaced by David.
Finally Saul admits that he sinned because he was afraid of what the people demanded. Saul pleads for forgiveness and in the process tears Samuel’s robe at which point he tells Saul that the kingdom is now torn from him and he will be replaced as king.
These verses are extremely relevant in the modern church. We are in a season where many in the Christian culture have replaced a focus on obedience towards a focus on grace and worship. While I thank the Lord for His grace and it is truly one His greatest gifts we are still to do our very best to be obedient to obey all that the Lord tells us. Said differently we cannot lead a sinful lifestyle and say that we are covered by grace. The Lord knows our hearts and whether we are sincere in our struggles or mistakes or whether we are choosing to live however we want without repentance or a genuine effort to change.
Saul was not obedient but he rationalized it by bringing his worship to the Lord.
This is the danger that some people face today is that they think or have been told that the most important part of our Christian walk is worship and that grace will cover our poor choices but that is not the complete picture.
Verses 22 and 23 say it best

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the LORD:

your burnt offerings and sacrifices

or your obedience to his voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,

and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,

and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.

So because you have rejected the command of the LORD,

he has rejected you as king.”

You see our doing what Jesus says to do and submitting to Him as the Lord of our lives is more important than bringing Him our sacrifices, our offerings or our worship. Because when we do not follow the word of God it is rebellion and that is sin and being stubborn and knowing what to do but choosing not to do it is sin. And before the Lord will receive your worship you must repent of your sins because the Lord will not dwell with sin or bless disobedience.
We can see that all through the Bible that people had to repent of their sins to bring acceptable worship and receive their blessings. The gospels in particular would show people coming to Jesus putting their faith in Him and repenting of their sins and receiving blessings and salvation because Jesus accepted their worship. And on several occasions Jesus would tell the people He healed to sin no more.
Please listen carefully to what I am saying. No one is perfect but God. We all will make a mistake at some point or another. When that happens quickly ask the Lord to forgive you and to help you not to do it again. Then make the genuine effort to sin no more. That is when the Lord’s love and grace will cover your weaknesses and He will forgive you as if it never happened and He will still accept your worship.
On the contrary if there is a person who willfully does not obey the Lord and even defends their actions then it does not matter how much sacrifice or worship they bring to the Lord it is not acceptable because they are not repentant or struggling with an issue rather they are rebellious which is sin.
It is at that point that genuine repentance must occur to restore your right relationship with the Lord and by His word and the power of the Holy Spirit obedience will occur and their worship will not only be acceptable but it will be pleasing unto the Lord.
So wherever you are on your walk today. Whether you are a seasoned Christian, just starting out or somewhere in the middle take a spiritual inventory. Repent of any sin in your life, study God’s word and walk in His ways then you can and will bring Him proper worship that He deserves and you will be blessed like never before.
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