By Kevin Williams
Would anyone argue that there are no sacrifices involved in the practices of those in various religious institutions throughout the world? On the contrary, there are many sacrifices that are made by many religious people in many ways. Consider Buddhist monks. They sacrifice much socially and monetarily by living their lives in solitary temples. Consider the Amish. They sacrifice the comforts and conveniences of technology in order to live differently from the rest of the world. Consider those in “Protestantism.” There is a lot of sacrifice of time, efforts and money in order to exist and function in their religious affiliation. The same could, and should, be said of the Lord’s church.
Yet, consider the question “Is what is being sacrificed what God asks?” Asked in another way, “Are the sacrifices that are being offered based on the Word of God?”
In the text of 1 Samuel 15, King Saul (Israel’s first king) was told by God to “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and to not spare them” (v. 3). He was talking about the Amalekites. They were the ones who ambushed the Israelites at Rephidim as they were coming up out of Egypt (Ex. 17.8ff). To “utterly destroy” them meant that they were to devote all the people and all their goods to destruction, to totally annihilate them in war (man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey). What did Saul do?
Saul proceeded to set an ambush in the valley near the city of Amalek. He allowed the Kenites to leave because they had showed Israel kindness when they left Egypt. He then attacked “from Havilah to Shur” (from Arabia across the Sinai Peninsula). However, since Saul and the people were unwilling to utterly destroy ALL of them they spared King Agag and the best sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs, and all that was good to SACRIFICE to the Lord. The problem with the actions of Saul and the people was that God did not want them to be taken and sacrificed to Him, He wanted them utterly destroyed. Furthermore, Saul’s stark disobedience caused God to regret making him king in the first place.
Saul’s responses to Samuel are interesting. He continually insisted that he had done the Lord’s will even though the evidence suggested the contrary. First, Saul told Samuel, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD” (v. 13). Samuel knew that he had not done so because he heard the sheep and oxen he brought back. Saul did that part of God’s will that he wanted to do. He did not fully obey. Samuel describes Saul’s disobedience as “evil.” I wonder if we are ever like that? Do we pick and choose what we want to do? Or, do we have the conviction to do what God wants regardless of the circumstances? To do otherwise, according to the text, would be “evil!”
Second, Saul reassured Samuel that he had obeyed the Lord, but that “the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal” (v. 21). He tried to “pass the buck.” He blamed the disobedience on the people. I wonder if we are ever like that. When we come up with excuses for not obeying God (whatever those excuses are), we are the ones who are at fault. We cannot place blame on anyone when we fail to do what God wants us to do.
The text concludes with Samuel telling Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams” (v. 22). The truth is that God delights more in obedience to His Will than to sacrifices that we might make that are not authorized in His Will! Furthermore, God does not accept just any sacrifice or worship, only what He prescribes in His Word. So let each of us remember that when we offer sacrifices to God in our daily Christian lives that those sacrifices must be based on His Word and not what we, or anyone else, decide to offer Him. If we follow this basic principle we will truly understand that “to obey is better!” Think about it.
- Kevin Williams preaches for the Walnut Grove church of Christ in Benton, KY. He may be contacted through the church's website: http://walnutgrovechurchofchrist.org/