But Samuel replied, "What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams." 1 Samuel 15:22
Television talk show host Oprah Winfrey stated that in all of her interviews, each interviewee always asks a version the same exact question when the interview is over. This question is asked whether they are a convicted criminal, a former president of the United States, or Beyoncé Knowles. "Was that okay?" each interviewee asks Oprah when the interview is concluded. Although she is used to that question, she was still shocked when Beyoncé Knowles asked for validation after her interview with Oprah. Even if we are the most acclaimed movie star or have reached a career accomplishment that most would only dream of achieving, there is something within us that longs for acceptance and approval from others. The problem is that there is only one source of approval that really matters, God, and as long as we seek approval from any source, we will always come short. Sometimes, if we are not careful, we will even live disobediently to God just to please people. Saul, the first king of Israel, sought the approval of people more than the approval of God, and he faced a monsoon as a result of his disobedience.
In 1 Samuel 15, God instructed King Saul to go with his army and destroy the Amalekite people because of how they had treated the Israelites. This included the destruction of all people and animals. God wanted the entire nation destroyed, with nothing left or preserved after the Amalekites' destruction. Therefore, Saul and his army went and destroyed the Amalekites, but they spared King Agag, king of the Amalekites, and kept the best animals for themselves. Samuel, a prophet and judge of Israel, knew what Saul had done. He went to Saul, telling him that he knew he and the Israelite army had not killed King Agag and had taken the best animals for themselves. Because of this, Samuel announced that God had rejected Saul. He would no longer be king, and, in fact, God was already raising up another king. Even when Saul declared that he intended to sacrifice the animals the Israelite army had acquired, God was not pleased. Samuel said, "What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice?" (1 Samuel 15:22a). Next, Samuel answered his own question. "Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22b). In other words, what God really desired was Saul's obedience.
As Saul asked for forgiveness from God, he admitted that he had done wrong. He had been afraid of the Israelite army and did what they demanded, which was to take King Agag captive and to acquire the best-looking animals. He had let his concern for what other people wanted override his concern for honoring God.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been so concerned about what other people would think or how they would respond that you chose pleasing them instead of pleasing God? Maybe you are in that spot now, and you have found yourself disobeying God because of that desire to please people. Let me assure you, my friend, that nothing is more important than pleasing God. And, what's more? Disobedience to God will always lead to a monsoon of negative consequences. Let's learn from Saul's example and be people who make honoring and obeying God over people a priority.
Where does this lesson from 1 Samuel 15 land with you? Do you find yourself battling between seeking God's approval and people's approval? Take a few moments right now and with your journal, answer this question: What would it look like if I lived only for God's approval? After answering this question, think of one step you can implement today to begin living solely for the approval of God.
Read 1 Samuel 15:1-31 (NLT)
One day Samuel said to Saul, “It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.”
So Saul mobilized his army at Telaim. There were 200,000 soldiers from Israel and 10,000 men from Judah. Then Saul and his army went to a town of the Amalekites and lay in wait in the valley. Saul sent this warning to the Kenites: “Move away from where the Amalekites live, or you will die with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites packed up and left.
Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.
Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.
Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”
When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”
“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.
“It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”
Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”
“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.
And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”
“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
But Samuel replied,
“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”
Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”
But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”
As Samuel turned to go, Saul tried to hold him back and tore the hem of his robe. And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”
Then Saul pleaded again, “I know I have sinned. But please, at least honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel by coming back with me so that I may worship the Lord your God.” So Samuel finally agreed and went back with him, and Saul worshiped the Lord.