To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

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1 SAMUEL 15:1-16:23 | JOHN 8:1-20 | PSALM 110:1-7 | PROVERBS 15:8-10

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There is a pattern that we can observe concerning Saul.  A pattern of disobedience, or of doing things his own way.  The very first time we see this quality in him is when he is instructed by Samuel to go down to Gilgal after he is anointed king.  Samuel tells Saul to wait for him for seven days in order that Samuel himself might come and attend to the sacrificial burnt offerings and such that were to be made.

But Saul does not wait out the seven days.  On the seventh day, he believes that it is best that he take care of business himself since Samuel doesn’t seem to be coming.  He is wrong.  Samuel does come, and is disappointed in Saul’s lack of obedience. 

Well, that was then, and this is now.  Several decades later, Saul is yet again instructed to go and do battle with a certain people, the Amalekites, and to “wipe them out.”  Saul does just that, except he willfully forgets that last part, and decides to wipe out only some, not all of the spoils of war.  This is yet again another example of Saul’s disobedience.  And God is not pleased. 

Apparently, forty years have passed since Saul was first anointed king, but even after all this time, Saul has not understood the significance of following orders, especially when they come from the Lord, and in this case, via Samuel, the leader/judge/priest of Israel.  And so, there are consequences.  The consequences of disobedience, if you will.

The Lord has spoken to Samuel, and Samuel in turn comes to see Saul about it.  Samuel has this to say:  “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. 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.”

Saul attempts to make amends, but things never do get back on track for Saul.  This is Samuel’s last meeting with Saul.  The writing is on the wall:  Saul’s days are numbered.  What is fascinating in this passage is the human quality of regret that we see ascribed to the Almighty.  Verse 34 says this:  And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Soon, we see that Samuel is sent on a new mission:  a mission to seek and anoint a new king of Israel.  Samuel goes down to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse and looks upon Jesse’s oldest son, a tall young man and thinks that this might be the chosen one, but God says to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 

With Saul, it had seemed as if the appearance was a defining factor in selecting him as the anointed one.  Remember, Saul had stood out a head taller than everyone in the tribe of Benjamin.  But look what became of that selection!  Well, from the way the text reads, it appears that even God is now wary of using the criteria of appearance, and if anything, rejects it as a factor completely!

And so Samuel is now at the house of Jesse.  All of Jesse’s seven sons have been introduced to Samuel, but none of them is the chosen one.  Finally, Samuel pointedly asks Jesse if he might have any other sons, to which Samuel replies ‘yes, there is one, but he is only a youngster, and besides he is away tending to the sheep.’ 

You know what is coming, don’t you?  Yes, it is this ordinary, youngest son of Jesse who is chosen as the next king of Israel.  A young boy, most likely only a young teen, tending to his father’s flocks—it is this young boy who is summoned by his father, and Samuel anoints this young boy called David the next king of Israel.

If you are now wondering about the mysterious ways of the Almighty, you are correct in that they are indeed mysterious.  David, Jesse’s son, the young shepherd boy is anointed king, but this is not a publicized fact.  Saul, after all, is still king of Israel.  But the spirit of the Lord has departed from him, and we see an image of a restless king pacing the floors. 

And as God would have it, it is the most unlikely of things that often precipitate the most important and significant of things.  In Saul’s great distress, it is suggested to him that a young shepherd boy called David who is known to play the lyre be summoned to the king because perhaps such sweet music might soothe the king’s soul. 

Yes, says, Saul, bring this boy to me!  Which is how David finds his way into the palace of the king and ministers to him by playing his lyre.

Incidentally, on a completely different note, it is this very story of Saul and the young David that is the inspiration to the famous Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah.

Turning now to our reading in the gospel according to John, we come upon the well-known story of Jesus confronting the woman caught in the act of adultery.  Jesus looks to the crowd who has brought the woman to him so as have him possibly condemn her to a proper stoning by death as per Moses’ law.  Jesus was after all some kind of prophet, was he not?  Of course, he would tell them what they wanted to hear! 

But Jesus simply says this:  “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

Got that?  Yes, go ahead, pick up your stones, and begin to hurl them, won’t you?  But let’s get the stoning order right, if you don’t mind.  Let him who is without sin cast that first stone, if that’s alright with you. 

What?  Why aren’t you getting started?  Go for it!  What’s that you say?  None of you is without sin?  Are you sure?  Well, then, I suppose that settles that now, doesn’t it? 

Here’s how John describes the scene: 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus continues with his preaching, and today, we learn that he calls himself the light of the world.  He has already upset the teachers of the law and the elders in the Temple by telling one and all that he is the “bread of life” and that he has the “rivers of living water” within him, and now he is saying that he is the “light of the world”

These words were nothing short of blasphemy in Jesus’ day, and the reaction Jesus receives corresponds to that sentiment.  It will be sometime before the people come to realize that all this crazy-talk wasn’t so crazy after all.

Turning now to our psalm of the day, we find that Psalm 110 although short in length, is actually quite long on meaning.  It is a messianic psalm, the meaning and interpretations to which are many, but the short version is that David is writing of his Lord and successor, the Messiah himself who will eventually come—not once, but twice.  Part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled in the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of the Messiah, and we are to now await the second part of it. 

In reading some of the commentaries on this psalm, I was struck by one passage in which the writer says this: The reason for the delay in Messiah’s return is not apathy or disinterest, but mercy. God is giving men time to repent and turn in faith to Messiah as their Savior, rather than to face Him as soldier-king who must destroy the enemies of God (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3-12). The complete link to this commentary may be found here:

Finally, from the book of Proverbs, we find two verses that are worthy of our attention:

8 The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

9 The LORD detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.

3 thoughts on “To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

  1. You were certainly on a roll with today’s devotional, my friend. Very rich, thoughtful
    reflections! The reading from John reminded me of a professor who used to say,
    “Where two or three are gathered, look for a victim.” He was talking about the need
    humans seem to have for scapegoating: blaming a victim (often completely innocent)
    to place the guilt for their own faults and to create a temporary unity, a mob mentality.
    Jesus very simply and gracefully and brilliantly diverts attention away from the
    scapegoat, in this tense, dramatic moment, and onto the crowd, the mob. TFS!

  2. Many thanks for your thoughtful insights, as always, as well as your generous compliments.

    A few additional thoughts: I believe that this passage is instrumental in highlighting a few important aspects of the human condition: first, it is true as you point out that there is a human tendency to point fingers in a most judgmental way when in fact, we need to be looking inward. In line with this, the egregious act in question was one that perhaps ranks quite high on the moral code, i.e., adultery, and yet even this is not too far gone in the sight of God to forgive, and to rebuke those who may think otherwise. And finally, once it has been clearly established that it is not our place to judge solely because we are ourselves are in need of judgment– and salvation– who then has the right to judge and save? It is God Almighty himself. Who offers forgiveness, not condemnation, to a contrite heart.

    Again, thank you for sharing. God bless you.

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