TO OBEY IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE

To obey God is better than sacrificing to Him. This is somewhat puzzling. I never quite knew what it meant until now. I have heard it so many times before but I could never grasp it. My main question has always been, “ How can I sacrifice to God without obedience? “ Isn’t one who sacrifices also obedient? Can you sacrifice to God and still be disobedient? Now that I understand this, my thinking has changed dramatically. We can find this passage in 1 Samuel 15.

 The Lord had anointed Saul as king of His people. Through Samuel the prophet, Saul was told to go and wipe out the Amalekites. The Lord said to kill every living creature, man, woman, child, and every single animal. Sparing any was not an option. However, when Saul came back from battle, he brought back the king of the Amalekites, Agag, and the best of the flocks and herds. The Lord spoke to Samuel and told him that He was grieved because Saul had not carried out God’s instructions. Samuel later met Saul and rebuked him because he had not carried out the Lord’s commands. Saul replied, 

“The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”[1]

 Samuel cutoff Saul’s statement and asked him why he did not obey the word of the Lord.

Saul replied,

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. 21The 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.”[2]

 

To which Samuel replied;

 

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?

To obey is better than sacrifice,

and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

23  For rebellion is like the sin of divination,

and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,

he has rejected you as king.”[3]

This is where the phrase, “ To obey is better than sacrifice,” originates. So our answer to the meaning of this must lie in this story. Let’s take another look at it.

Saul was sent on a mission. When he came back from the mission he boasted of how he carried out the Lord’s command. But Samuel rebuked him and told him that he was disobedient to the voice of God and that God had rejected him as king.

Here is where we find the meaning to the passage. God spoke to Saul and said to him “Go and kill all the Amalekites and their livestock.” But when Saul came back, he brought the king of the Amalekites and the best of their livestock. Saul said that these things that he brought back were things devoted to God to be sacrificed to Him. But yet God was not pleased with Saul.  

Why was God displeased? Why did he frown upon what Saul did? After all, Saul brought back the BEST of the herds and flocks to give unto the Lord. Doesn’t God delight in our sacrifices to Him? Wasn’t Saul’s motive a good one? Where did Saul go wrong?

Saul went wrong in thinking that sacrificing to God was more important that listening to what He says. He assumed that although he was commanded to carry out God’s word, it would be alright for him to do as he pleased so long as he brought a sacrifice back. For surely a sacrifice of the best of the Amalekites cattle and sheep would be pleasing to God.

(Now if you are not getting the point in all of this, keep listening because I will go into greater detail as we go.)

But God was not pleased with the cattle and sheep, as a matter of fact He rejected them. He rejected them because Saul’s heart was not obedient, even though it was sacrificial. Saul did not obey the Lord and so even the greatest sacrifice would not be pleasing to God. Saul could have brought back all the gold and silver along with the king and the herds and flocks, and yet God would still have been angry with him. Saul thought, “You know what, I am gonna go above and beyond what God had said, and bring back the best of the Amalekites, to sacrifice to God.” By doing this, he put his will above God’s. Take a look at Samuel’s reply:

 

22But Samuel replied:

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?

To obey is better than sacrifice,

and to heed is better than the fat of rams.[4]

 

In other words, does God delight in our sacrifices to Him as much as our obedience too

His Word? No, obeying God is much greater than sacrificing to Him.  Listening to what

He says is better than giving sacrificially. ( I am getting closer to the point now.)  Can we

actually give to God sacrificially and yet be disobedient at the same time? Well, I think

that as we look closer we will find that not only can we, but we do rather frequently.

 

HOW THIS RELATES TO US 

We are going to look now at how this relates to us and the way we live. I believe that many of us are like Saul. We feel that as long as we make good sacrifices to God, that He will be pleased. However, we neglect the more important things, like being obedient to the mission that He has sent us on. We do not understand that in all of our giving, if we are not being obedient to God at the same time, then what we give is not acceptable to the Lord. Which leads us to one of my first questions; “Can we sacrifice to God and be disobedient at the same time?” Well, as we see in the story of Saul, yes we can.

 The reason why the Lord gave me this study is because He looked at His people and saw many who gave and gave and gave, and yet never obeyed His voice. He has become tired of those who give, but have disobeyed His commands. Our sacrifices have become burdensome to Him because we have made them to be of greater importance than obeying His voice.

 Ask yourself this question: Have I ever sacrificed to God something, whether it is money or time or possessions, and yet had an impure heart all the while that I was giving it? Have you? I am not asking you if your motive for giving was impure, I am asking you if you heart was impure in general. You see Saul’s motive for giving was good, but his heart was impure in general. Which shows us that your motives can be good when you sacrifice to God, but the sacrifice can still be unacceptable to Him no matter how great it might be. Listen to the words of Paul;

 

1If I speak in the tongues£ of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,£ but have not love, I gain nothing.[5]

 

I want to look at verse 3 in this passage first. It is remarkable to think that Paul could write such a thing. It would appear to be, on the surface, a contradiction. He says that if he gives all that he possesses to the poor and he surrenders his body to the flames, but does not have love, he gains nothing. What is so difficult here is how Paul could give all he has away to the poor without love. How he could sacrifice his body to be burned without love. After all, don’t you have to have love first before you can do all these things? Apparently, Paul is telling us that it is possible to do much, and yet not have love. He is telling us that sacrificing all that he has can be done without love. But yet when it is done without love, it means nothing. What Paul is saying here is that no matter what you do or what you accomplish for God, if you are not obedient to God’s command to love, then your accomplishments and sacrifices are nothing. You can give all of you money to the Lord’s work, but if you aren’t loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself then what you have given is not acceptable to Him and it is worth nothing. This is hard to accept. After all, aren’t we taught in the kingdom that when we sacrifice to God He is pleased.  Listen to what Isaiah wrote:

 

11   “The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the LORD.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

12   When you come to appear before me,

who has asked this of you,

this trampling of my courts?

13   Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

14   Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts

my soul hates.

They have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

15   When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I will hide my eyes from you;

even if you offer many prayers,

I will not listen.

Your hands are full of blood;

16      wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds

out of my sight!

Stop doing wrong,

17      learn to do right!

Seek justice,

encourage the oppressed.£

Defend the cause of the fatherless,

plead the case of the widow.

18   “Come now, let us reason together,”

says the LORD.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red as crimson,

they shall be like wool.

19   If you are willing and obedient,

you will eat the best from the land;

20   but if you resist and rebel,

you will be devoured by the sword.”

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.[6]

 

Can you sense God’s displeasure? What is it here that has made God so upset? Why was He not pleased with the sacrifices of Israel? What was so wrong with their celebrations and feasts? Weren’t many of these things required by the law? (Hebrews 10:8 says: “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made).) Why would the Lord be so angry with them when they were simply doing what they were supposed to do?

 

You see, although the Israelites were observing the requirements of the law, they were not fulfilling the heart of it. Yes, God commanded them to sacrifice bulls, lambs, rams and goats, but this is not what pleased Him. Israel assumed that all they would have to do would be to keep the requirements of the law and God would be pleased with them. Yet they neglected the more important things like justice and righteousness. They sacrificed bulls and goats but didn’t defend the fatherless. They burned incense but they did not encourage the oppressed. All of the external obligations they performed, but they forsook what God really wanted. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees regarding this:

 

23“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. 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. 24You blind guides![7]

 

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because although they did what the law required, they neglected those things that God really desired, that is justice, mercy and faithfulness. Sure they gave a tenth of what they had, but none of that was acceptable to Jesus because although they sacrificed what they had, they were not obedient to the more important matters of the law. Nothing is acceptable if you do not have love. The Pharisees could have given 90% of what they owned, but if they did not practice justice, mercy and faithfulness, they would have still been rebuked. Hosea wrote:

 

6     With what shall I come before the LORD

and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

7     Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousand rivers of oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8     He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.[8]

 

Hosea further emphasizes what God truly desires. He starts by asking, "What shall I bring before the Lord?” In other words “what is it that we should present to God that would be pleasing and acceptable to Him?” Are burnt offerings what pleases God? How about year old calves or a thousand rams? What about ten thousand rivers of oil? Or better yet, how about his firstborn child? Shall he sacrifice his own firstborn to God? Is that what pleases Him? If you notice as Hosea goes on, each potential sacrifice becomes greater than the last. His point is simply that we can offer the greatest offerings in the world and find that God is still not pleased. We can come before God with our most cherished possessions, our offerings can be in extreme abundance (ten thousand rivers of oil), and yet none of these things will please God. What God requires and what He desires is found in verse 8. To act justly, that is to live and do what is right, to love mercy, to be compassionate, forgiving and patient with all, and to walk humbly with God. These are the sacrifices that are pleasing to God. Not our material things. For what is there that God is in need of. Does He need our money? Does He need our homes? Does He need our possessions? The Bible says:

 

25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.[9]

 

Psalms 50:9-10 says:

 

9     I have no need of a bull from your stall

or of goats from your pens,

10   for every animal of the forest is mine,

and the cattle on a thousand hills.[10]

 

God is not seeking our things He is seeking our hearts. King David wrote:

 

16   You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17   The sacrifices of God are£ a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart,[11]

 

 

Have you noticed that the things that God usually asks us for are not typically material? How many times have you heard God say, “I want that thing in your house?” as opposed to, “ I want that thing in your heart.”?  What God desires and what God requires is a heart that is totally devoted to Him. He seeks nothing else until He has it. And everything that He asks you to sacrifice is to bring you to that point. Our mistake is when we assume that what He wants or needs is the thing that we are sacrificing. What can we give to God that He hasn’t already given us? David wrote:

 

14“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.[12]

 

Let me step away from those who wrote the scriptures and let me focus on you and I. Too often our assumption is that no matter what it is that we sacrifice, God is pleased. We often think that the larger the sacrifice the greater God’s satisfaction. And indeed there are many today who are sacrificing much, but in reality are sacrificing very little. You see, what good is it to God if you sacrifice half of all your paychecks and yet you do not present yourself as a living sacrifice? If you give $10,000 to God and yet you despise your neighbor, what have you gained? If you give all of your time to God, but you neglect your spouse and your children, do you think that God is pleased? God is looking for obedience, not sacrifices. He has commanded us to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute and revile us. Listen to what Jesus said:

 

23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.[13]

 

There is something here in this passage that I nearly missed. It has to do with the idea that this man remembered something before he offered his gift. This is telling me that before he made an offering to God, he contemplated the condition of his life. He did not simply lay down money on the altar and walk away thinking, “that ought to please God.” No, he examined his own heart and life and found that there was something in it that was not pleasing to God. And Jesus said that the man would do right to reconcile that situation. Our offerings are to be given with careful consideration of the way that we are living. For can it please God to receive our money but yet see that we have hate within us, or bitterness or lust or greed? We may give Him our money on Sundays, but do we give Him our hearts everyday? This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God. Jesus is saying, “Be obedient to God first, then, and only then, are our sacrifices pleasing to Him.” Listen to what the prophet Jeremiah writes:

 

 

 

22For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.[14]

 

God did not simply command the Israelites to offer sacrifices to Him. No, He commanded them to obey Him as well. And their obedience was the sign that He was their God and they were His people. For how could they call Him “their Lord” if they did not follow His commands? How could they be called “His people” if they did not do what He says? It was not the sacrifices that marked their allegiance and devotion to God; it was their obedience! It is the same today as it was back then. God does not simply desire to see us sacrifice to Him, what He really wants is us to obey Him. It is amazing when you look in the Old Testament at how many times the Israelites sacrificed great offerings to God, and yet were totally disobedient to God. The problem was that they considered the sacrifice to be sufficient.

 

21   “I hate, I despise your religious feasts;

I cannot stand your assemblies.

22   Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

I will have no regard for them.

23   Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24   But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream![15]

 

Look at the words that are used here. They are not simply words of casual displeasure. They are not words of tolerance as if God were saying, ‘Well, I really don’t like when you gather together, but I guess it is okay.” God’s utter disapproval is evident. Though they offered to God, though they sang to God, He was not in the least bit pleased. Why? Because their offerings and their songs were not solely what God wanted. He wanted their obedience. And if He did not have their obedience then He nothing even though to the Israelites it seemed that they had given much. How many times do you hear a preacher preach across the pulpit,  “ People, before we begin any music or singing, before we give anything in the offering, search your hearts, if there are any unresolved matters within you, first get your heart right with God and then we will begin singing and giving.”


 

[1] 1 Samuel 15:15

[2] vv.20,21

[3] vv.22,23

 

[4] v.22

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

[6] Isaiah 1:11-20

[7] Matthew 23:23,24

[8] Hosea 6:6-8

[9] Acts 17:25

[10] Psalms 50:9-10

[11] Psalms 51:16,17

[12]  1 Chronicles 29:14

[13]  Matthew 5:23

[14] Jeremiah 7:22,23

[15] Amos 5:21-24