“And Samuel said, “Has 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 listen than the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22, ESV
There is a difference between obedience and sacrifice.
In 1 Samuel 15, we read that King Saul did not obey God’s command (through His prophet, Samuel) to follow a specific battle plan. This was not the first time Saul failed to obey. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul offered an unlawful sacrifice to God. He knew it was the wrong thing to do, but he did it anyway. And now in verse 22 of chapter 15, Samuel spells it out for Saul, “to obey is better than sacrifice.”
The time, place and manner of a sacrifice can be usually be determined ahead of time, and often by us. A sacrifice can often be a matter of our own choice and will. This is rarely, if ever, true of obedience. Sacrifice can be a matter of our initiative. Obedience is always a matter of our response to God’s initiative. Obedience may require sacrifice, but Saul’s sacrifice was not an act of obedience.
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The sacrifices covered sin, but did not take it away.
Lesson 37 from The HOPE Study Guide
According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.
– Exodus 25:9
And each day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement, and you shall purify the altar when you make atonement for it; and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.
– Exodus 29:36
And I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. And I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.
– Exodus 29:43–45
Now God knew that because of the sin that had infected humankind, the people would not be able to keep these laws. So God told Moses how to build a sacred place where His presence would dwell among them, and the people could bring animals to be slain as offerings for sin. The blood of the animals would be as a covering so that God would not look upon their sin. But while these sacrifices covered sin, they did not take away the sin.
– The HOPE, Chapter 7
OBSERVE & CONSIDER
When God gave the Hebrew people the Law, He knew that, because of the sin that had infected humankind (Lesson 18), they would not be able to keep the Law. It might appear to have been a cruel thing for God to give the Hebrew people a standard He knew they could not live up to. But let’s look a little deeper. Man’s greatest need is to have a healthy relationship with God. Because the Law represents the character of God, man cannot side–step the Law and be right with God. The Law represents who God is. Just as God is holy, righteous and good…so also is the Law (Romans 7:16). Man must be rightly related to the Law if he is to be rightly related with God.
Being full of grace, mercy, and wisdom, God provided the Hebrew people with a way to maintain their right relationship with Him even though they would inevitably break the Law. As it is said in The HOPE, So God told Moses how to build a sacred place where His presence would dwell among them, and the people could bring animals to be slain as offerings for sin. The blood of the animals would be as a covering so that God would not look upon their sin. God’s instructions for this sacred place of sacrifice, known as the tabernacle, are detailed in Exodus 25-27. God’s instructions for the offerings to be given there are detailed in Exodus 29-30.
In Exodus 29:36 we read that this offering was for “atonement.”1 The word “atonement” comes from the Hebrew word “kaphar”2 which literally means “to cover.” (This was the same word that was used when God told Noah to “cover” the ark with pitch.) When offerings were said to be an atonement for sin, they were in a sense “covering” the sin. Now it would be foolish to think that God, the One who sees and knows all things, is blind to sin, as if He could not see through an offering. It would be more accurate to say that God honored the offering by choosing not to look upon the sin or judge the sin…at least for a period of time. Continue reading →