“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”. 1 Samuel 15:22
During his 40 year reign Solomon sacrificed thousands of animals in burnt and peace offerings but as Matthew Henry once put it; “It is much easier to bring a bullock or lamb to be burned upon the altar, than to bring every high thought into obedience to God, and to make our will subject to his will. Those are unfit and unworthy to rule over men, who are not willing that God should rule over them”. Sacrifice means little to God if it is not accompanied by obedience. Reading of the demise of Solomon’s relationship with God is both saddening and sobering.
It is better to learn from the mistakes of others than from our own mistakes, I do hope that Solomon serves as one such example for us. True obedience involves sacrificing our will for our life for God’s will to be done instead. Rather than sacrificing the flesh of animals God wants us to willingly present our lives to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Animal sacrifice is not something that we are very familiar with today but perhaps it can be likened to the “works” we busy ourselves with in God’s Name. Whether its acts of charity, attending bible study, worship practice, street evangelism or whatever the case may be, all of these good works, well-meaning though they may be, will mean little to God if they are not accompanied by an obedient heart. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov 15:3). What is our behaviour/attitude like when we are in our own company? Remember we are never really alone, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, this is a wonderful truth to know when we are in God’s will but the exact opposite if we are rebelling against Him. What is our thought life like? We may be able to conceal these from each other but not God (Psalm 139:2).
Sacrifice is certainly not without merit though and as we’ve already mentioned God wants us to present our lives to Him as a living sacrifice. But human sacrifice can only take us so far. God is more impressed by our willingness to obey Him. More than that though He longs for us to come to Him with a humble, penitent heart because He made the ultimate sacrifice for us; “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else I would give it: thou delighest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise”. (Psalm 51:16-17). David understood that no amount of animal sacrifice was going to take away his sin. Its only when we come to the end of ourselves and realise that we are destitute without the sacrifice Jesus made for us that we can receive a new heart that wants to obey Him. Praise God we have received that new heart! Let us now seek to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and show that love to Him by obeying Him.
Below is a link to a Keith Green song called “To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice”, hopefully you will find the words challenging and edifying.