To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

By Dick Blackford


Samuel also said to Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:1). This gave Samuel the right to instruct Saul as to what the Lord wanted from him. The prophet acted as a mouth for God. To hear one was to hear the other. When Samuel told Saul to hearken, that meant he was to do so with deep interest, understanding, humility and sincere submission.

I. The commandment was clear. “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suck-ling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (v. 3). This was divine vengeance and justice being rendered. The Amalekites had occupied land on the frontiers of Egypt and Palestine. When Israel was finally being freed from many years of slavery the Amalekites treated an already suppressed and suffering people with cruelty as they fled Egypt. Amalek smote the hindmost of the people, those who were faint, weary and too weak to keep up with the rest. Israel was required to remember this treacherous treatment (Deut. 25:18f). They joined several other nations at different times to fight against God’s people and are mentioned as oppressors of Israel (Judg. 10:12). Let no one question the justice of God. The Judge of all the earth doeth right. The commandment was perfectly clear.

Saul and the people disobeyed God, destroying the vile and refuse but keeping the things of value. They also spared Agag, king of the Amalekites. Inspiration shows Saul and the people were in this together (v. 9).

II. Men are self-deceived when they think their sacrifices equal obedience. Saul said, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (15:13), “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way the Lord sent me” (v. 20). Untrue, and Saul knew it for he repeated the commandment back to Samuel (v. 21). However, he sought to justify it on the basis that the spoils they brought back were to be sacrificed to God.

How many times has human reason won out in the hearts of men over the teaching of God’s word? Religious people have added burgers and coke to the Lord’s Supper, instrumental music to the singing, meaningless imitations of instrument with the voice, “fellowship” halls, man-made benevolent and evangelistic institutions to the work of the church, etc. Many of these have been “justified” on the basis that “the end justifies the means  God will be pleased with our sacrifices.”

III.Partial obedience is equal to no obedience at all. It can be said that Saul and the people did partially obey the command of God. They destroyed some of the Amalekites. They utterly destroyed all that was vile and refuse (v. 9). But denial of disobedience does not make it so. Saul did not utterly destroy the people, for we read of the Amalekites several times after this event who were still “alive and well.” David fought against them and an Amalekite claimed to have killed Saul when he died (2 Sam. 1:1-16). Saul also spared Agag and preserved the things of value.

Some today think as long as they keep the “spirit” of God’s word (what “they” think God really intended), then the details of obedience are unimportant. The “new hermeneutic” is self-serving. Every generation has had its “new hermeneutics.” Saul had his.

IV.Disobedience is often caused by fear of men rather than fear of God. Saul said, “I have transgressed . . . because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (v. 24). This kept some Jewish rulers from accepting Christ (Jn. 12:42,43). This is a possible motive today as we see advocates of the “new hermeneutic” being influenced by the majority and more interested in uniting with the denominations than in being united with their brethren. The “new hermeneutic” may be new to most brethren but it is “old hat” among the denominations.

If Saul had feared God more, he need have feared the people less. When we see that he was rejected from being king and the treatment Samuel gave to Agag, those who would disobey should greatly fear God much more than they fear men.

V.The disobedient often shift the blame. Saul blamedthe people (v. 15,21). As King, Saul should have restrained them. There is no record that he even told the people what God commanded.

Today when brethren apostatize blame is often placed on those who exposed their error. It is said that good men were “pushed,” “forced,” or “driven” into apostasy. But no one apostatizes who doesn’t want to. God did not accept Saul’s explanation for his apostasy. There is no evidence he will accept such explanations now.

VI. Success in life often goes to one’s head and leads to disobedience. “And Samuel said, when thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?” (v. 17) Being king of a great nation would be the ultimate in worldly status. Fame and prosperity accompany it. Saul raised a monument, a vainglorious trophy, to himself (not God) on Mt. Carmel. His pride was greater than his sense of duty. His sparing Agag was possibly to enjoy the glory of displaying him before others.

Today we see would-be intellectuals among us who are desirous of a Doctor of Divinity degree from the theological seminaries among the denominations. They are too busy to discuss the issues that divide us. Getting them to do so is like pulling hen’s teeth.

VII. The highest service we can render to God is complete obedience. “And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou has rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (15:22,23). A careful conformity to his word recommends us to God more than any invention of men. The humble, sincere and conscientious obedience to God’s will pleases him far more than any “improvement” or “enhancement” we may devise. Regardless of good intentions, God regards such disobedience as rebellion and stubbornness. Motive does not justify conduct.

VIII Failure to obey causes sorrow to faithful, God-fearing men. When God told Samuel of Saul’s disobedience, it is said, “And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night” (v. 11). Perhaps more tears should be shed and more prayers prayed to God when brethren depart from the faith. Let us guard against the “I told you so” syndrome and come to a full recognition of this mournful situation.

IX. Rebuking sin should not be considered as a lack of love. “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul” (v. 35a). It is possible that one may rebuke with an unloving heart, but to so accuse another may also be “justification” for continued disobedience. Even if I rebuke unlovingly, it does not justify the one whose error was rebuked. My sin is not your salvation. However, all rebuking should be done with love for both God and man. If Samuel could rebuke Saul yet still mourn for him, so can we.


Saul’s loose attitude and loose interpretation prompted the “new hermeneutic” of his day. Behind it all was a loose attitude toward God and how much he wants our simple obedience. Let us be put “in remembrance of these things.”


I hope the editor will permit me to reserve a little space from my article to say a word about Searching the Scriptures. I share with others mixed emotions on seeing this
monthly journal discontinued, but I believe I now understand brother Adams’ reasons. Though a journal is just paper and ink in one sense, when one spends a big portion
of his efforts and life in close association with it there is a notice of sadness generated as though one has lost a friend I must say that STS was a friend. Someone subscribed for
me while I was still in college 30 years ago and I owe a debt of gratitude to its editors and those who kept it going through the years. It came at a crucial time in my life and
helped ground me in the all-sufficiency of the blood purchased church of our Lord. I appreciate its edification and the pleasant memories. I always looked forward to
receiving it in the mail when I was in the Midwest, 800 miles away from home. Brother Adams has done a good job as any could do at maintaining balance in the paper, presenting material on a variety of subjects. He has endeavored to be fair, allowing both sides of an issue to be discussed without allowing it to degenerate into wrangling and strife.
I appreciate his inviting me to write for the paper a few years ago and the encouragement he has given since. We rejoice at the opportunity to have some of his burdens lifted and
look forward to reading from his pen in Guardian of Truth.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 3, p. 12
February 4, 1993