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.
1 Samuel 15:19-22
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This is our third day of looking at this exchange between Samuel and Saul. Today, let’s go back a few verses and add some context. In the following verse Samuel is telling Saul what the Lord has told him.
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.
1 Samuel 15:17
The key here is you were once small in your own eyes because Saul is no longer small in his own eyes. He has become prideful and arrogant, after all he is the king anointed by God. He is only truly cognizant of who he is now and not who anointed him as king.
This leads to an answer to a question I had. Why did Saul bring back Agag of king of the Amalekites? It was pride. It was not enough he had won a great battle and totally destroyed the Amalekites, but he wanted to parade Agag around as a trophy of his great victory. Saul was no longer small in his own eyes, in fact he knows better than God what should or should not be done. So he disobeyed God to make himself great (not small) in his own eyes. This is a form of idolatry in the form of self worship. No wonder Samuel compared Saul’s rebellion to idolatry.
23a For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
1 Samuel 15:23a
In my reading I ran across the following quote attributed to St. Gregory concerning what Samuel had to say. He wrote In sacrifices a man offers only strange flesh, whereas in obedience he offers his own will. Well today we are not offering sacrifices of strange flesh. Instead we are offering sacrifices of money (tithes) or time and effort (another form of tithes), but are we offering up our own will? Are we willing to do God’s will. The Apostle John has this to say.
And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.
2 John 5:6
It is easy (in comparison) to offer up today’s sacrifices while not offering up our hearts in obedience, holding dear our own pride and arrogance. Can we, will we, surrender our own individual wills to do the will of God? Jesus addressed this directly with the spiritual leaders of Israel when He said
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. 43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-24
The spiritual leaders of Israel thought they could get away with tithing alone while giving lip service to the weightier matters of faith. So they neglected justice, the love of God, mercy, and faithfulness because they were in love with their status – their self worship.
What are we neglecting? What are we putting in front of giving our hearts to God? Samuel did not say sacrifice was bad, he simply stated a truth, obedience is better than sacrifice. True then, true in Jesus’ time, and true in our time today.