“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is
better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” Samuel 15:22-23
For a very long time as I lived way too worldly a life, I used the story of animal sacrifices as one of my reasons for not believing that the Bible was real. I would say, “what kind of God would want you to kill a poor animal, the best in the herd, and burn him up, so that he, this so called God, could enjoy the smell of the smoke?” It seemed way too barbaric. Right before I asked Jesus to forgive me and come into my heart, I heard the Holy Spirit tell me that every word of the Holy Bible I was holding in my hands was true. Then and now, as a Christian, I have had to try to resolve my feelings about animal sacrifice and something else, bigger and of more concern to me, killing an entire group of people, like the Amalekites in this chapter of 1st Samuel. Not killing all of the Amalekites and all of their livestock is what Saul is guilty of in these verses. I didn’t have the choice to say that it was just a story and not really true because I knew the Bible was true, all of it.
At one point the Holy Spirit had told me it was all history. Ok, as a history teacher, I could understand that. It was just the way things were back then. That’s the way people acted. No, wait! That wouldn’t do! This was about God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He doesn’t change. (Hebrews 13:8) God told Samuel exactly what He wanted Saul to do, and in this case, it was to kill all of the Amalekites. In the beginning of chapter 15, Samuel says, “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation— men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys. ” 1 Samuel 15:2-3
That command is what Saul did not obey because he spared the King and all the best of the livestock. And, there I am, confronted with the facts of what happened, and my preconceived idea that destroying human beings can’t be right. Even the babies, my heart cries out. How do I reconcile that? Maybe, I don’t.
Maybe it can’t fit in nicely with my 21st century sense of things. Maybe God has a way of seeing destruction that I can’t understand. Not that I don’t understand, but perhaps something beyond my earthly ability to understand. So, it calls for acceptance. Could death be seen by God as a transformation instead of an end, my heart asks? I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit! Extreme violence. And, God is supposed to be good and loving. How easy it would be to say, “Ok, that proves it. I am not a Bible believer anymore,” but I can’t do that. I know it is true because He told me. I believe He knows a lot more than the authors of the old testament knew how to write down or comprehend. Plus, obviously, they saw killing differently than we do thousands of years later.
Am I resolved to the violence of his commands? No. But, I am determined to accept that His purposes are higher than mine, and he has our best interests at heart. “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 I have to look at these verses and learn from them. I can’t ignore them or pretend they just got in there by mistake. When you hear the Holy Spirit talk to you in the middle of the night as you lay on your bed reading the Bible, you tend to believe Him. At least, I knew it was true. “Why?” they ask. “Because it happened to me.”
In these verses, we see that Saul’s kingdom will be taken away from him because he didn’t obey God, and obedience is more important than sacrificing and “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.” If you have ever faced down your rebellious teenage son or daughter, you understand this instinctual. It is all about obedience. What makes our military so effective? Yes, bravery, technology, etc etc, but without obedience we have nothing, and everyone would be going in different directions.
I always liked the first part that obedience was better than sacrifice because I never wanted to kill any animal. But, look closer at the next thing that Samuel says. “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.” How often are we rebellious or stubborn? It’s not only for teenagers. Even as rebellious and stubborn as I was back then, I didn’t get it all out of my system. And, even now at 70 there are remnants of it there. But, Saul lost his kingship over disobedience. God gives us so many blessings I don’t want to lose a single one. His commands are not a burden and He expects us to follow through on them, whole heartily.
Pray that God will help you to get rid of any rebellion or stubbornness in you. Pray that you will be able to fully complete all that He asks of you. No, you aren’t a king. He is only going to ask you to do reasonable things. For whatever reasons at that time it was reasonable to ask Saul to wipe out the Amalie kites. We live in today. He will only ask you to do what you can and are reasonable for our place in history. Pray for understanding.