To Obey, Is Better Than Sacrifice (1 Samuel 15-16)

Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 15-16

We come to 1 Samuel 15, and another spiritual crisis in King Saul’s life. Inspired by Israel’s victory over the Philistines, Saul’s army had increased, and the nation experienced battlefield victories over the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites and Amalekites (14:47-52).

1 Samuel 15 – “To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice”

Saul’s Disobedience (15:1-11)

We find Samuel going to Saul with the LORD’s command that Israel would go to war with the Amalekites, and not spare a life. All were to be killed, “man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (15:3).   Saul’s army, now two hundred and ten thousand strong (15:4), experienced a glorious victory over the Amalekites (15:7-8); however, he disobeyed the LORD’S command (15:9).

Samuel’s Response (15:10-12)

The LORD came to Samuel, and said, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king” (15:11a). Samuel’s response was one we would expect of a man of God, for he grieved [lit. he was hot with anger], and “cried unto the Lord all night” (15:11b). The prophet wrestled through the night with anger, frustration, and compassion, even as he prayed for Saul. Rising early the next morning, Samuel made his way to Saul’s encampment (15:12).

Saul’s Deception (15:12-15)

As Samuel came to Saul, the king professed a piety that belied his sin, saying, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (15:13b). Undeterred by the king’s lies, Samuel said, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (15:14). Here was an opportunity for Saul to confess his sin, but instead he excused his actions, and suggested the people had “spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (15:15).

Samuel’s Rebuke, and the LORD’S Rejection (15:16-23)

Samuel revealed it was Saul’s pride that had brought him to the spiritual crossroads at which he was standing (15:16-17). He had failed the LORD and Israel. Foolishly, Saul protested that he had “obeyed the voice of the Lord…21But the people took of the spoil…to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal” (15:20-21). In one of the great spiritual lessons of the Old Testament Scriptures, Samuel asked Saul, “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. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is asiniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from beingking” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

Saul Discarded (15:24-35)

1 Samuel 15 closed with a portrait of the disastrous consequences of rebellion and disobedience.  Saul had disobeyed, and the LORD had rejected him from being king, and turned His heart to another who would be king. In an act of righteous indignation, Samuel took up a sword, and “hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal,” and completed wherein Saul had failed (15:33). Saul returned to his home in Ramah, and “Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel” (15:35).

1 Samuel 16 – A King After God’s Own Heart

The LORD came to Samuel, and asked, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?” (16:1) Waiting no longer, the LORD commanded Samuel, “fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons” (16:1).

Samuel’s response is insightful, for he feared the king would kill him (16:2). The LORD commanded Samuel to go, and under the cover of offering sacrifices, he was to invite Jesse, the father of David to come (16:2b-3). Though there is little explanation, the news of Samuel’s coming to Bethlehem caused the leaders of that city to tremble, perhaps fearing he was bringing a word of the LORD’S judgment (16:4).

As instructed, Jesse invited all of his sons, with the exception of the youngest, to stand before the prophet (16:5-6); however, the LORD’S standard would not be that of the people when Saul was chosen to be king. Samuel looked on Jesse’s three eldest sons, and the LORD instructed His prophet, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (16:7).

Samuel then asked Jesse, “Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither” (16:11). David, the young man whom the LORD had chosen to be king, left his sheep, and stood before Samuel. The prophet “took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (16:13a).

Tragically, the “Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” (16:14). To calm his troubled spirit, the king’s servants suggested a musician be sought who was “a cunning player on an harp…one who could play when the king was taken in an “evil spirit” (16:15). In the providence of God’s sovereignty, the man chosen was David. We read, when Saul looked upon him, he “loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer” (16:21-23). God had orchestrated that David would be the king’s musician, and thus setting the stage for a shepherd boy to be schooled in the role of the king and government (16:14-23).

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith