In 1 Samuel 15, Saul chose to keep the Amalekite king Agag alive and took the plunder from the battle rather than destroy everything as God had commanded. When Samuel confronted him, Saul said, “I did obey the Lord. . . . I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:20–21).
Samuel answered in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices / as much as in obeying the Lord? / To obey is better than sacrifice.” Why is obedience better than sacrifice?
Two answers are given. The first answer is offered in Samuel’s response: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, / and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. / Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, / he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:23). Saul’s disobedience was an act of rebellion, iniquity (sin), and idolatry.
The second answer is offered in Saul’s confession. He said, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them” (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul admitted that his sacrifice was a transgression (sin) and was against God’s command. It was the result of seeking the approval of people.
Putting it all together, we see several reasons why obedience to God is better than making sacrifices or offerings to Him: 1) disobedience is an act of rebellion, 2) disobedience is sinful, 3) disobedience is a form of idolatry, 4) disobedience disrespects God’s Word, and 5) disobedience is based on looking good to other people rather than to God.
Still today, in our human attempts to look good in serving God, there is the temptation to perform certain religious duties rather than to truly obey God. Even good activities, such as giving money to charity, attending church services, or praying in public, are not as important to God as obeying His commands.
Jesus criticized the teachers of His time for similar practices. Matthew 6 notes three religious activities—fasting, public prayer, and giving to those in need—that people often use to look good in front of other people rather than to honor God. As in 1 Samuel 15, the problem is not the offerings but the disobedience of God’s commands and the desire for approval of people rather than the approval of God.