Obedience Not Sacrifice

God had told Saul clearly that he wanted him to wipe out the Amalekites. They were supposed to go and completely destroy them. No ifs. No ands. No buts. Wipe them out.

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’

1 Samuel 15:2-3

But Saul wanted to please his men. He was more interested in making men happy than making God happy, and so when they brought him back the king of the Amalekites, named Agag, along with several good cattle and sheep, instead of killing them all, Saul decided to go on up to Carmel and present a sacrifice. He was doing what was typically considered to be a good thing, but he was doing it out of disobedience. Saul’s sacrifice was more of a victory lap than it was a true desire to give to God, and now he will be rejected and punished for what he had done.

But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
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 15:22-23

God’s plan was for Saul to do what God had told him through Samuel. But as Samuel said, Saul rejected the word of the Lord. He didn’t want to obey it, and instead he preferred to be praised by men. The fact that he was offering sacrifices didn’t matter. The obedience to God’s word is what God wanted, but because Saul didn’t want to offer obedience, but instead wanted to do things his own way, his headship, his kingship over Israel would be cut off as God would reject him as king.

Sacrifice can be used for sins, but it can also be used for worship or fellowship with God. But Saul, in fact, wasn’t interested in worship or fellowship with God. He was interested in raising himself up. He was interested in having himself be lauded. For this, he raised up a monument to himself at Carmel, and this was the context in which he was offering sacrifices. To whom was Saul offering praise? It was to himself! Even if he was saying that these sacrifices were for God, Saul was instead raising up himself.

So this is the danger of leadership. As leaders, we must maintain Christ as our head. As leaders, we must continue to call people to leadership in obedience to what Jesus has called us to do. As leaders, we must submit ourselves to the headship of Christ so that both we and those that we are leading can know Jesus in complete submission to God. This is who we are called to be and what we are called to do. Only in this way will God accept our leadership of others for the time in which he has called us.

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