“To obey is better than sacrifice”

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Through the prophet Samuel, God commanded King Saul, “Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.” (1 Samuel 15:3, New Living Translation) [1]

Now, before we go further, allow me to explain why God is not a moral monster for issuing this apparent genocide. The Lord Himself gave the reason for the extermination of that nation: “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.” (v. 2) According to “Hard Sayings of the Bible,”
Why was God so opposed to the Amalekites? When the Israelites were struggling through the desert toward Canaan, the Amalekites picked off the weak, sick and elderly at the end of the line of marchers and brutally murdered these stragglers. … When a nation starts burning children as a gift to the gods (Lev 18:21) and practices sodomy, bestiality and all sorts of loathsome vices (Lev 18:25, 27–30), the day of God’s grace and mercy has begun to run out. [2]
As to why the women, children and livestock were included, according to “Hard Sayings,” “If the women and children had been spared in those profane Canaanite nations, how long would it have been before a fresh crop of adults would emerge just like their pagan predecessors?” [3] We have to remember that the sovereign God Who authored life has the right to take away life.

Sadly, King Saul did not fully obey God’s commandment. 
But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. (1 Samuel 15:9)
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Just as delayed obedience is disobedience, so also partial obedience is full disobedience. And when Samuel confronted him, Saul pulled a piety card. He gave a religious reason for not obeying God: “[The soldiers] have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” (v. 15, emphasis added) But that was not what God commanded them to do. Saul even tried to shift the blame, “I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them.” (v. 24b, New International Version) But the Lord held him accountable for command responsibility at the very least. He was supposed to make sure that God’s mandate was fully implemented. Thus, Samuel declared,
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king. (vv. 22-23, emphasis added)
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To sacrifice is much like religious activities nowadays. There’s nothing wrong per se with such activities. But it’s not a substitute for obedience to God’s Word. For the Lord, disobedience is a rebellion against Him and rooted in the arrogance of men. It is at par with divination and idolatry. Both are detestable before God. Simply put, to disobey God is to reject His Word. To obey the Lord is to listen to Him.
Still today, in our human attempts to look good in serving God, there is the temptation to perform certain religious duties rather than to truly obey God. Even good activities, such as giving money to charity, attending church services, or praying in public, are not as important to God as obeying His commands. [4]
We should neither delay obedience nor obey partially. We are to obey fully and immediately.

Brothers and sisters, to obey is better than sacrifice.

[1]  All Bible verses are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

[2]  Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. et al, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 15:18.

[3] Ibid.

[4]  “Why is obedience better than sacrifice?” Got Questions Ministries, accessed October 14, 2016, https://gotquestions.org/obedience-better-than-sacrifice.html. Emphasis added. 

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