“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22
Is Better Than – Saul loved being king. He loved to be the man in charge. He loved to make the decisions. That love of power and prestige ruined him. He forgot that the king is called to have an ear for the words of the Lord. He forgot that the only reason a man leads is because he first serves. Saul thought he could pacify YHWH with ritual, but Samuel reminded him that ritual means nothing if it is used to replace obedience. The Hebrew preposition min has a half dozen or more meanings depending on the context. Here it is used as the indicator of comparison. It could be translated “to obey is above sacrifice,” or “ to obey is beyond sacrifice,” or “to obey is greater than sacrifice.” What is really important is the implication that failing to carry out God’s commands is the equivalent of rebellion, iniquity and idolatry (see the next verse). Samuel speaks ominous words to Saul: “Because you have rejected the word of YHWH, YHWH has also rejected you from being king.” Disobedience has terrible consequences because disobedience is tantamount to serving some other god.
Many know this story but few consider its contemporary application. Who are the people who substitute ritual for obedience? It isn’t the non-believers. They don’t care about the ritual at all. Only those who are connected to the worship of YHWH are likely to use ritual as an alternative to obedience. We are those people.
“How can you say that?” you might ask. “We worship God. We believe in Jesus. We go to church.” So? The issue is not about religious practice or sacred rituals. It’s about doing what YHWH says. As far as I can tell, YHWH says to watch what you eat, use your assets according to His instructions, demonstrate justice and righteousness over excess gain, sacrifice for others, love enemies, honor elders, maintain holiness and respect His creation. In fact, He gives specific commandments about exactly how to accomplish these things, including how to worship Him. But it seems that a large number of Christian practices follow Saul. They substitute what God said for some ritual, perhaps a ritual that even has a biblical connection. But there’s just a little alteration, a little twist, a little difference. And when YHWH rejects those substitutions as idolatry, we get upset, claiming that we have the right motivation. Really? What motivates us to make up our own rules for obedience? G. K. Beale makes a comment about Israel’s history that seems particularly appropriate for us. “The problem with these traditions was not that they were necessarily unbiblical or bad in and of themselves, but Israel’s attitude to the traditions. Israel trusted in these traditions instead of in God and his word.” What do you suppose Yeshua meant when He said, “Neglecting the commandments of God, you hold fast to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8)? Doesn’t that apply to us too?
John Stott said, “The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform.” Do you think he’s right? Have you reconsidered the “traditions” of your faith and asked if they match the words of YHWH? Have you taken a long, hard look at the actual words of YHWH, or does your faith rest on the traditions of your church? Is it really better to obey or will that just cause too much conflict in your life?
Topical Index: min, better, obedience, tradition, 1 Samuel 15:22
 G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, p. 169.
Grammatical Note: You may have noticed a few typos in the last two days. I apologize. Too much travel and too little time often results in less than excellent work. Please overlook these errors and concentrate on the message. I will try to be more careful.