In the middle of a scathing indictment against King Saul’s presumption and arrogance, the prophet Samuel utters these famous words:
“To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
Saul had clearly heard God’s direction for his life, but felt that the direction needed improving. He was directed to destroy the Amalekites completely, taking no plunder, but instead he spared the best of the sheep and cattle “to sacrifice to the Lord.” This seems like a perfectly logical and noble gesture on Saul’s part, wanting to sacrifice to the Lord… so why does Samuel make such a big deal out of it?
Here are my thoughts. Sacrifice can be a way to cover up our lack of willingness to obey. If we sacrifice for God, our conscience is appeased. Additionally, if we sacrifice for God, he owes us something (so we think). Sacrifice is a way of “buying” whatever we want to get from God (protection, deliverance, provision, favor). We may say, “God, look at all I’ve done for you! You owe me this, it’s only fair!”. We demand our goodies from God, but we retain our right to do what we want.
Obedience is the response of someone who is in a relationship of trust. We trust God, we depend on him, we are interactive with him. Obedience is better than sacrifice because we are letting God be God and staying in our proper place with him. The place of dependence and surrender to his direction even if it looks CRAZY!!
I have seen example after example of sacrificial living in my lifetime. People are often described as sacrificing so much (time, jobs, homes, cars, children) to further the kingdom of God. I am thankful for these examples of sacrifice; however, I come up short of examples where people live obedient lives, even when it does not make sense.
Sacrifice certainly has it’s place and is an important Biblical concept; however, we must be cautious that we are not using it to cover up our lack of obedience.