Tezavveh and Zakhor
For the week or February 27, 1999 / 11 Adar 5759
Shemot / Exodus 27:20-30:10 and Devarim / Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10-27
Replaced by:1 Samuel 15:2-34


To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22)

This passage records the circumstances that led to God's rejection of Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul had been instructed through the prophet Samuel to enact complete judgement upon a group of people called the Amalekites. This was because of what they did to the people of Israel years before, when they came up from Egypt.

Saul was given very clear instructions:

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys (1 Samuel 15:3).

But that is not what Saul did. Instead we read,

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs - everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed (1 Samuel 15:9).

The Lord's word to Saul in reaction to what he did is as clear as his original instructions:

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. 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 (1 Samuel 15:22,23).

The interaction between Saul and Samuel provides us with some key insights into how we can tend to put our own agendas ahead of God.

First, though Saul had neglected the Lord's command, he tries to sound really spiritual.

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, "The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD's instructions." (1 Samuel 15:13).

Notice the spiritual talk spewing from his mouth. Was Saul trying to deceive Samuel or was he deceiving himself? He hadn't done what God told him, and yet he tries to portray himself so wonderfully.

We too can use God-talk to give the impression that we are more spiritual than we really are.

Then when Samuel confronts him, saying that Saul failed to carry out the Lord's instructions, he denies it. "But I did obey the Lord" (1 Samuel 15:20), he insists. He even attempts to turn his disobedience into religious service.

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 (1 Samuel 15:21).

But it is to this that Samuel replies, "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22). To disobey God and call that spirituality is a great evil.

Now, most of us will never be in a situation like Saul's. But I wonder how often we give ourselves to things or noble causes in place of the most important things in life. How many of us sacrifice our families for our jobs or our congregations for example. We fill our lives doing "good things," but they are not God's things.

It is us that God wants, not our sacrifices.

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