1 Samuel 15
If you have spent anytime with Christians, then you know that they are the best of people. David was right, “As for the saints in the land, they are they excellent ones in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). God has given us His Spirit. And He enlarges our hearts so that, in the main, we run in the way of His commandments (Psalm 119:32). We do, however, need reminders about just how nasty disobedience is. Rebellion can disguise itself and sneak up on us. So it is good to regularly shine the light on it and see the ugly monster for what it is. 1 Samuel 15 does just that.
The Text – A Summary
Samuel spoke the word of God to Saul saying that he must devote the Amalekites to complete destruction (v. 1-3). Saul prepared for battle (v. 4-5). He struck the Amalekites but spared their king Agag, as well as the best of the animals (v. 7-9).
God spoke to Samuel saying He regreted making Saul king for he had not performed his commandments (v. 10). Samuel was quite grieved and went to confront Saul (v. 11-12). But, Saul pretended all was well (v. 13). Samuel brought up the living animals who were supposed to be dead (v. 14). Saul claimed they were for sacrifice.
The prophet told the king, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (v. 22). And then he added that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (v. 23). He told Saul that because he rejected the LORD’s word, the LORD had rejected him as king (v. 23). As Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed his robe and it tore (v. 27). Samuel then pronounced, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.”
Samuel obeyed where King Saul did not as he proceeded to hack Agag to pieces before the LORD (v. 33).
Obedience is Better Than Sacrifice
The prophet’s words are striking, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Saul disobeyed God. God told him to destroy Amalek, that included men, women, children, and all the animals. But Saul spared the best of the sheep and oxen, claiming that he brought them as sacrifices to God. But, God doesn’t want you to bring Him the fruits of your disobedience as sacrifices. He wants you to obey. Given Saul’s disobedience cloaked in religious devotion, God tore the kingdom from him. The punishment was severe. And for good reason.
When one sacrifices to God while downright disobeying Him, he attempts to unrealize God. Of course, God cannot be unrealized. But such a man would attempt to do so. He would have God become a dream. He lives as if God is satisfied with a moment of time and a ritual. And after having performed the ceremony, he plans to get back to the real living in which he controls his own life and future. The prophet Samuel sees that this is precisely what is going on so he adds, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubborness is as iniquity and idolatry” (v. 23). That verse warrants the question, “What hath rebellion to do with witchcraft?”
The witchcraft which Samuel speaks of involves the pagan process of stating or determining the future, often through signs, omens, and supernatural powers. Now you might say, “Was King Saul really guilty of all of that? Didn’t he just disobey God’s command by not killing Agag and the animals?” Well, you don’t see King Saul over the witches brew yet. But, he is already involved in witchcraft and in only a few chapters we will see him physically at the witch’s house in Endor. It is not without reason that Samuel employs the language of witchcraft here. Saul spared Agag and the animals because he wanted to determine his future. Obedience is an entirely different thing.
The obedient simply do what God says and leave the outcome to Him. They trust God for the future, leaving the determination of things to Him. The rebellious attempt to steer their own lives, the lives of others, and the whole world for that matter. And they do so by human plans and devices. That is precisely what witchcraft is.
So here is the encouragement. God controls things, and He does so on purpose. He does so to a particular end. The point is not merely that He controls your individual life. He does that, and thanks be to God. But the point is, He controls everything. He has purposes that He is bringing to pass on a grand scale. Your job is not to take the reins from Him. That’s witchcraft. Your job, being a Christian washed in the blood of the Lamb, is to get on with obeying God, cheefully, thankfully, and in what ever station He has put you in. As you do, you’re playing your part in the grand operation. You’re actually laboring for a glorious future, and you’re involved in the manifestation of the things to come. But, seeing you are obeying God, you are laboring for that future in the Christian way, not the witchy way.