“But Samuel replied, ‘What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to Him is much better than the fat of rams.'” 1 Samuel 15:22
Over the past few days, I feel like God has been speaking to me about what’s in my heart. So, I thought I’d share it with you.
Have you ever read a story in the Bible and a new point sticks out to you that you didn’t notice before? I’ve read 1 Samuel 15 before, and I remember thinking that the Lord’s response to Saul was a little harsh (forgive me, Lord). But, I had completely missed an important part of the story.
We see in verse 2 that the Lord Almighty “decided to settle accounts” with the nation of Amalek for how they treated the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. May I go on a little rabbit trail here? I absolutely love this verse. In fact, I underlined it in my Bible. Have you ever been treated unjustly? Do you feel like God hasn’t seen? Don’t worry, my friend. God will “settle accounts.” He may choose to do it in His timing, but revenge belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). And when He settles accounts, He does it in a BIG way!
He told Saul to go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation, leaving NOTHING alive (1 Samuel 15:3); but instead of completing the mission, Saul and his men spared King Agag’s life and “kept the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs – everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:9).
Samuel went to Saul and asked him, “Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do exactly what the Lord told you not to do?” (1 Samuel 15:19). Twice Saul told Samuel that he spared the best of the sheep and the cattle to sacrifice them to the Lord, first in verse 15 and again in verse 21. Sadly, his reasons for keeping the best of everything made sense to me. Wasn’t he desiring to sacrifice to God? Wouldn’t these animals die anyway, but doing it Saul’s way would honor God more, right? Why was God so displeased? **How on earth did I miss verse 24?!?!?**
“Then Saul finally admitted, ‘Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and what they demanded.'” 1 Samuel 15:24. Was Saul’s intention to sacrifice to God? No, that was his excuse. He didn’t obey because he cared more about what people thought than what God thought. 😦
Samuel replied to Saul’s excuse (and really, that’s what Saul was giving – it may have sounded good, but it wasn’t the truth): “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to Him is much better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
Yikes! Rebellion is as bad as witchcraft? Stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols? I am in trouble! Who can stand before a God who knows our hearts? After all, He knows our thoughts! He knows if we’re making excuses or obeying His voice. We may be saying all the right things, we may even be doing some of the “right” things. But, if we’re just going through the motions and not obeying what God tells us to do, if we’re not listening to Him and our heart isn’t in the right place, then we’re not pleasing God.
1 Samuel 16:7 says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t make decisions the way you do! People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions.'” (And maybe here is where I should note that I’m reading the New Living Translation of the Bible currently.) Psalm 139 also tells us that God knows our thoughts and our heart.
We can make excuses for our behavior. They might sound holy or valid. But, if we know in our heart that we are disobeying what God has told us to do, then they are simply just excuses. I was struck by the fact that Saul feared what others thought more than what God had said. Whose glory are we living for? Our own, or God’s? What motivates us to respond – what people may “like” on Facebook or what God has said in His Word?
My heart’s desire is to listen to God more closely and then respond with immediate obedience. I fear I fall short of this daily (thank God for Jesus’ blood covering my sin!). Because we have been given a new day, let’s view it as a new opportunity to do the right thing. Forget the past and OBEY today!
Dear Heavenly Father, You are holy and honorable, upright and just. We love that You settle accounts for how Your people are treated. We enjoy that You know the big picture – the beginning and the end. Only You can take revenge because only You know the entire background and entire future. But, in knowing everything, You also know our intentions, our motivations, our hearts and our minds. You know us completely – how is it, Lord, that You still love us? Why did You have such compassion on us that You sent Your only begotten Son to die for our sin? We are so thankful that this was Your choice and response to us! God, search us and know us – more than that, fix us! Speak to our hearts and help us obey immediately. May we be so in tune with Your Holy Spirit that we do Your will every opportunity that we can. Please forgive our sin when we don’t. Please forgive the times that we thought we could ‘make it up to You.’ You aren’t honored by sacrifices instead of obedience. You don’t judge like people do – it doesn’t matter if it looks right if it isn’t right. Please forgive us for caring more about what people think than what You think. We are truly sorry, Lord! Help us live our lives in a way that honors You, glorifies You and pleases You! We love You and long to worship You and You only, in spirit and in truth. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!