Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice - I Samuel 15:1-23
Rev. Dr. Ernest Brodie Jr.
The Amalekites were a marauding group who preyed upon the weak of Israel (Deuteronomy 25:18). Although there were times when Israel fought back against Amalek and won (Exodus 17:8-13), Amalek continued to plague the people of Israel. God promised the destruction of Amalek as a result (Exodus 17:14). It is hard to coexist with those who want you dead. In this case, God called for the complete annihilation of them.
Four hundred years later, it was time to fulfill the promise to deal with the wicked nation of Amalek. The prophet Samuel is called by God to deliver the instruction to King Saul to destroy Amalek. Saul gathers a large army of 250,000 soldiers to deal with them once and for all.
As the troops move into the area near the Amalekites stronghold, they came upon the Kenites. The Kenites were related to Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, who was also called Ruel (Exodus 3:1; Judges 1:16), and they were friendly with the Jewish people. When Saul and the army approach the territory of the Amalekites, they allow the Kenites to leave the area.
Saul is ordered to completely destroy the people of Amalek. This included the men, women, children, and animals. While this is not the first time God ordered the complete annihilation of a nation (Joshua 6), it does cause one to pause and question the order. Is God just, if He orders the destruction of the innocent? Not only is God just, He is the standard of justice. Just like the sins of Adam and Eve affected all humanity, the sins of the Amalekites led to the destruction of the nation. They were enemies of Israel and were bent upon the destruction of the Jewish people. Even after Saul’s attack, a number survived. Following generations continued to harass the Jewish people (1 Samuel 30). They burned villages and made slaves of the Jewish people. They even took two of David’s wives. Even when David rescued his wives, some from Amalek escaped and would later continue to attack Israel. The hatred of the people of Amalek is pointedly illustrated in the book of Esther. Haman the Agagite was a descendant of King Agag the Amalekite from 1 Samuel 15. He was behind the plot to kill all of the Jews in the Persian Empire. It is hard to coexist with those who want you dead.
Saul attacks the nation of Amalek from Arabia to Egypt. When it comes to obedience, partial obedience is disobedience. While King Saul attacks them as ordered, he spared the life of King Agag. It was not uncommon in the ancient world to spare the life of an enemy king to be a servant. Saul may have thought having King Agag around would act as a testimony to his own greatness. Regardless of the reason, Saul violated the command of the Lord. Not only did Saul spare the life of King Agag, he also spared the best of the animals. Later Saul claims that the animals were set aside for a sacrifice to the Lord.
What is God’s response? He sends Samuel to confront King Saul. When Saul greets Samuel, the first thing out of Saul’s mouth is a claim that he obeyed all the Lord commanded. Samuel immediately confronts Saul with the facts. It is apparent that Saul failed to obey God’s order. Samuel then reminds Saul from whence he came. Saul was chosen from the smallest tribe, and from a humble livelihood to be king over the entire nation of Israel. Samuel reminds him that he was given a direct order, and yet he chose to disobey the Lord. Saul responds by claiming he did obey the command of the Lord, it was the people of Israel who chose to disobey God by saving the animals for a sacrifice to God. Surely the Lord would understand that the people were merely attempting to worship Him.
Samuel answers with a pointed statement in 1 Samuel 15:22-23: “And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” Samuel makes it clear that God would rather have obedience than a sacrifice. He goes on to remind Saul that rebellion is just like the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is the same as idolatry. When we disobey God, we place ourselves above God’s authority. Saul’s actions led God to reject him from being king. Whenever we fail to obey the word of the Lord, we disobey God. If we are going to faithfully serve the Lord, obedience is required.