To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice

Written on: February 1, 2024

Article by: Kevin Pickles

In 1 Samuel 15:1-23 we read how the prophet Samuel told Saul that the Lord Almighty had decided to punish the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they first came out of Egypt. He told Saul to go and destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children along with all of their livestock. So Saul mobilized his army, went to a town of the Amalekites and slaughtered everyone except king Agag. They also destroyed part of the livestock but kept the best for themselves as plunder.

This was not what God had commanded. Saul was deliberately disobedient to God’s instructions and when Samuel confronted him, he tried to justify his actions. He tried to shift the blame onto others, claiming that it was not his fault since his soldiers had spared them. This was most unlikely since they would have not done this on their own without Saul’s express orders. Saul then claimed that his people had only spared the animals with intentions to offer them in sacrifice to the Lord God. Samuel did not accept Saul’s excuses and proceeded to pass God’s judgement – which was that God had rejected Saul as king of Israel.

In verse 22 of our reading Samuel tells Saul “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.

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The prophet Hosea had a similar message for the people of his day, saying: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”(Hos. 6:6)

In both passages we are plainly told that humble, sincere, and conscientious obedience to the will of God, is more pleasing and acceptable to Him than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Obedience is the law of innocence, it is an expression of positive righteousness. But sacrifice is remedial. It presupposes the existence of sin and is a provision to take away that which obedience would have prevented.

If Adam and Eve had obeyed God in the garden, sin would not have entered the world. Once sin entered the world sacrifice was required. Exodus 29:36, Leviticus 1:4 and Leviticus 4 among other passages teach us that he purpose of the animal sacrifices demanded under the Old Testament was to atone for the sin.

Hebrews 9 and 10 go on to explain that in reality, the blood of bulls and goats never could atone for the sin of man. This could only be achieved through the blood of Christ. The animal sacrifices required under the Old Law are no longer required as Christ, Himself, was offered up as a sacrifice to atone for our sins, Romans 3:21-26. This was necessary since no other sacrifice was adequate. Christ’s death on the cross has always been the key part of God’s plan to ransom His people. Christ became God’s ultimate sacrifice through obedience to the will of our heavenly Father.

Although we are no longer required to offer animal sacrifices we are still required to sacrifice. Paul instructs us in Romans 12:1-2 that we are to be living sacrifices, not killed as the sacrifices under the law. We must allow ourselves to become fully devoted to the service of God. We need to die to our old selves, die to our will and allow God’s will to permeate our lives. We can do this by allowing Christ to live in us through faith. In 1 Peter 2:4-5 we are called to be a holy priesthood; sacred to God, required to serve others, blessed with heavenly gifts, graces, and talents. As this holy priesthood we are required to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God. These spiritual sacrifices include our bodies, our lives, our love, prayers, praises, giving, and use of our talents to serve God and others. Through Jesus Christ, our great high priest, our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God.

There is only one word in Hebrew for obedience; shama (שָׁמַע). It means to hear, to listen, to give attention, to understand, to submit to, and to obey. This means that obedience to God requires us to do three things: listen to God’s instructions, understand His instructions, and then follow or submit to His instructions.

There are numerous examples of men and women who demonstrated obedience to God, some examples of these are:

Noah building the ark (Genesis 6-9).

Noah’s obedience shows us the importance of following God’s commands, even when others around us choose not to do so, or if it seems unusual or unconventional. Noah’s obedience was not easy, but he trusted in God’s plan, followed it exactly and was rewarded for his faithfulness. The result of Noah’s obedience was that he and his family were saved from the flood and blessed by God.

Abraham required to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18).

Abraham demonstrated tremendous faith when he believed God’s promises and obeyed His commands, even when they seemed impossible or unreasonable. Hebrews 11:8-19 documents the many ways that Abraham demonstrated his faith. We can learn from Abraham that obedience requires faith and trust in God. We may not always understand God’s ways or His purposes, but we can know and trust that He is good, and He knows what is best. We also learn that obedience often involves sacrifice and surrender. We may have to give up something that is precious to us, or perhaps something we think we deserve, in order to obey God. Abraham was asked to give up his one and only son upon whom all of God’s promises seemed to depend. It made no sense, but Abraham obeyed. Like Abraham, we can also have confidence that God will provide everything we need to obey Him, just as God provided the ram for Abraham.

Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3-12).

There are many things that we can learn from Moses’s example of obedience. Moses felt intimidated by what God had called him to do and inadequate to do it. Yet in humility and with God’s help, he grew in courage and ability. Like Moses, we may also feel intimidated by what God calls us to do or think ourselves unable to fulfill his commands. We may also face opposition or resistance from others who do not share our vision or faith. But we can overcome our fears and doubts by relying on God’s strength and wisdom. Obedience sometimes involves cooperation and partnership. God does not expect us to do His work alone. He gives us people to support and encourage us while complementing our gifts and talents.

Daniel and his relationship with King Darius (Daniel 6).

From Daniel’s example of obedience, we see that God can improve us. Daniel’s faithfulness and obedience allowed him to excel in his position with the king and allowed him to obtain an even higher position. Daniel’s obedience allowed God to be glorified through him. The Babylonian king recognized the importance of Daniel’s relationship with God and saw for himself that God had the power to save and deliver. Daniel also demonstrated that obedience sometimes requires us to be brave and loyal. Daniel refused to obey the commands of the king when they were contrary to the word of God. Daniel chose the presence of God in the lion’s den over the favour and rewards of the king.

Mary and the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-45).

Mary demonstrated obedience to God’s will when the angel Garbriel came to Nazareth and told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son, and that she was to name Jesus. She was told the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he would reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. Mary was perplexed and asked how this could be since she was a virgin. The angel told her the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the holy one to be born would be called the Son of God. Mary’s response to all this was simply I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.

Mary’s obedience played a key role in the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. It must have been frightening for this young woman to have an angel of the Lord speak to her directly. And not only that, the message itself was frightening: that the Holy Spirit would miraculously conceive a child in her while she remained a virgin and that that child would be the Son of God. Mary embraced God’s plan for our salvation and her part in it – demonstrating for us that we need to courageously be open to God’s plan even when it seems to be unusual and comes to us in unexpected ways.

These are just a few examples of men and women who demonstrated obedience to God. There are many others in the Bible, who like these men and women were also obedient. This is the kind of obedience to which we are called. (Luke 11:28; Philippians 2:12-13; Titus 3:1-2; 1 John 2:15-17).

Obedience requires us to listen to God’s word, understand His word and to follow His requirements exactly as written.

Obedience is not always easy and requires us to:

  • Follow God’s commands exactly – without deviation. We need to spend time in His word to know His will and pray to ensure we understand what we must do to be obedient to His will.
  • Follow His commands even when those around us choose not to or when it seems unconventional.
  • Have faith and trust in God. We may not see the big picture, but we have to trust God, remembering that He is good and knows what is best.
  • Be prepared to sacrifice and surrender. We may need to give up something precious to us or something that we think we deserve.
  • Be courageous and humble, relying on God’s strength and wisdom while remaining open to His plan. It’s God’s plan not ours.
  • Rely on cooperation and partnership – we are not called to do God’s work on our own. God have given us Godly men and women to help and support us.
  • Be brave and loyal – trust in God even in the face of very dire circumstances.

When we are obedient to God’s will it results in amazing things for us and others including:

  • We will be blessed by God.
  • We will have confidence that God will provide everything we need to serve and obey Him.
  • God will give us people who can support us, encourage us and complement our gifts and talents to help us complete His mission.
  • God will help us to grow into the image of his Son and help us excel.
  • God will be glorified through our obedience.
  • God will guide us through the difficult situations we face today and will deliver us from the burden of our sinful nature – through God’s grace obedience will allow us to receive our inheritance, our heavenly home.

If you are not a part of Christ’s church, I would encourage you to read God’s word, understand what you must do to be saved and obey that message. If you are a part of Christ’s church, I encourage you to remain faithful and obedient to God’s message and God’s plan for you. God’s message is powerful, and He can change us and make us into the people He wants us to be. A people that are obedient to His will.

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