1 Samuel 15:22
And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(22) Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.—In this answer it would seem that the Spirit of the Lord descended upon Samuel, and that he here gave utterance to one of those rapt expressions which now and again in the course of each of these Hebrew prophets’ lives these famous men were commissioned by the Divine power to give out to their fellows. The words of Samuel here were reproduced, or at least referred to, by other prophets and teachers of the old dispensation; for example, see Psalm 50:8-14; Psalm 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Micah 6:6-8; Hosea 6:6. Our Lord himself, in His words recorded in Matt. ix, 13, if not actually referring to this passage, makes substantially the same declaration.

Irenæus, Haer. 4:32 (quoted by Wordsworth), sees in this great saving of Samuel’s a plain intimation that the day would come when the burnt offerings enjoined on Israel would give place to a simple worship of the heart. Wordsworth also quotes a weighty comment from St. Gregory (Moral. 35:10): “In sacrifices (per victimas) a man offers only strange flesh, whereas in obedience he offers his own will.”

1 Samuel 15:22. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice — A most divine admonition this, and inculcated by all the following inspired writers, by David, Solomon, and the prophets; as the reader may see by consulting the margin. Obedience to God is a moral duty, constantly and indispensably necessary; but sacrifice is but a ceremonial institution, sometimes unnecessary, as it was in the wilderness; and sometimes sinful, when it is offered by a polluted hand, or in an irregular manner. Therefore thy gross disobedience to God’s express command is not to be compensated with sacrifice. To hearken — That is, to obey. The fat of rams — Then the choicest part of all the sacrifice.

15:10-23 Repentance in God is not a change of mind, as it is in us, but a change of method. The change was in Saul; He is turned back from following me. Hereby he made God his enemy. Samuel spent a whole night in pleading for Saul. The rejection of sinners is the grief of believers: God delights not in their death, nor should we. Saul boasts to Samuel of his obedience. Thus sinners think, by justifying themselves, to escape being judged of the Lord. The noise the cattle made, like the rust of the silver, Jas 5:3, witnessed against him. Many boast of obedience to the command of God; but what means then their indulgence of the flesh, their love of the world, their angry and unkind spirit, and their neglect of holy duties, which witness against them? See of what evil covetousness is the root; and see what is the sinfulness of sin, and notice that in it which above any thing else makes it evil in the sight of the Lord; it is disobedience: Thou didst not obey the voice of the Lord. Carnal, deceitful hearts, like Saul, think to excuse themselves from God's commandments by what pleases themselves. It is hard to convince the children of disobedience. But humble, sincere, and conscientious obedience to the will of God, is more pleasing and acceptable to him than all burnt-offering and sacrifices. God is more glorified and self more denied, by obedience than by sacrifice. It is much easier to bring a bullock or lamb to be burned upon the altar, than to bring every high thought into obedience to God, and to make our will subject to his will. Those are unfit and unworthy to rule over men, who are not willing that God should rule over them.Hath the Lord ... - A grand example of the moral and spiritual teaching of the prophets (see the marginal references). The tension of Samuel's spirit, as he is about to pronounce the sentence of rejection, produces a lyrical turn of thought and language.

1 Samuel 15:22.To what purpose shall frankincense be brought unto me from Sabah?

Or the rich aromatic reed from a far country?

Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable,

continued...

13-23. Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord—Saul was either blinded by a partial and delusive self-love, or he was, in his declaration to Samuel, acting the part of a bold and artful hypocrite. He professed to have fulfilled the divine command, and that the blame of any defects in the execution lay with the people. Samuel saw the real state of the case, and in discharge of the commission he had received before setting out, proceeded to denounce his conduct as characterized by pride, rebellion, and obstinate disobedience. When Saul persisted in declaring that he had obeyed, alleging that the animals, whose bleating was heard, had been reserved for a liberal sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, his shuffling, prevaricating answer called forth a stern rebuke from the prophet. It well deserved it—for the destination of the spoil to the altar was a flimsy pretext—a gross deception, an attempt to conceal the selfishness of the original motive under the cloak of religious zeal and gratitude. To obey is better than sacrifice, because obedience to God is a moral duty, constantly and indispensably necessary; but sacrifice is but a ceremonial institution, sometimes unnecessary, as it was in the wilderness; and sometimes sinful, when it is offered by a polluted hand, or in an irregular manner; therefore thy gross disobedience to God’s express command is not to be compensated with sacrifice.

To hearken, i.e. to obey, as hearing is oft used in Scripture. Than the fat of rams; than the choicest part of all the sacrifice, to wit, the fat, which was appropriated to God, Leviticus 3:16; whereas the offerer might partake of other parts of it.

And Samuel said,.... In reply to Saul:

hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? no, certainly, the one being merely ceremonial, the other moral; the one supposes sin committed, for which sacrifice is offered; the other moral, and is a compliance with the will of God, and is neither sinful, nor supposes anything sinful, and therefore must be the more acceptable:

behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams; which always was claimed by the Lord as his right and due; or the fattest rams or best sacrifices, of whatever sort, whether burnt offerings, or sin offerings, or peace offerings; for had man obeyed the will of God, and not sinned, there would have been no need of sacrifice; and that was only acceptable to God when offered with a heart truly sensible of sin, and penitent for it, and in the faith of the great sacrifice of Christ, of which all sacrifices under the law were typical, and led unto.

And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
22. With a burst of prophetic inspiration Samuel rends asunder Saul’s tissue of excuses, and lays bare his sin. His words are the key-note of the long remonstrance of the prophets in subsequent ages against the too common error of supposing that external ceremonial can be of any value in the sight of God when separated from the true devotion of the worshipper’s heart which it symbolizes. See Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 50:8 ff; Psalm 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:11-15; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7. The rhythmical form of the original adds force and solemnity.

Verses 22, 23. - The rebuke of Samuel contains one of those pregnant sayings which mark the high moral tone of the teaching of the prophets, and soon became a fundamental principle with them. To obey is better than sacrifice is a dictum reproduced by Hosea (Hosea 6:6), the most ancient of those prophets of Israel whose lessons have been preserved in writing; it is referred to in still earlier psalms (see Psalm 50:13-14; Psalm 51:16, 17); by other prophets (Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Micah 6:6, 8); and finally received our Lord's special approbation (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). It asserts in the clearest terms the superiority of moral to ritual worship, and that God can only be really served with the heart. Witchcraft is in the Hebrew divination, a sin always strongly condemned in the Old Testament. Iniquity literally means nothingness, and so is constantly used for "an idol;" and this must be its signification here, as the word coupled with it, and rendered idolatry, is really teraphim. These were the Hebrew household gods, answering to the Roman Lares, and were supposed to bring good luck. Their worship, we see from this place, was strictly forbidden. The verse, therefore, means, "For rebellion is the sin of divination (i.e. is equal to it in wickedness), and obstinacy (i.e. intractableness) is an idol and teraphim." Samuel thus accuses Saul of resistance to Jehovah's will, and of the determination at all hazards to be his own master. With this temper of mind he could be no fit representative of Jehovah, and therefore Samuel dethrones him. Henceforward he reigns only as a temporal, and no longer as the theocratic, king. 1 Samuel 15:22Without entering, therefore, into any discussion of the meaning of the ban, as Saul only wanted to cover over his own wrong-doings by giving this turn to the affair, Samuel put a stop to any further excuses, by saying, "Hath Jehovah delight in burnt-offerings and slain-offerings as in hearkening to the voice of Jehovah? (i.e., in obedience to His word.) Behold, hearing (obeying) is better than slain-offerings, attending better than fat of rams." By saying this, Samuel did not reject sacrifices as worthless; he did not say that God took no pleasure in burnt-offerings and slain-offerings, but simply compared sacrifice with obedience to the command of God, and pronounced the latter of greater worth than the former. "It was as much as to say that the sum and substance of divine worship consisted in obedience, with which it should always begin, and that sacrifices were, so to speak, simple appendices, the force and worth of which were not so great as of obedience to the precepts of God" (Calvin). But it necessarily follows that sacrifices without obedience to the commandments of God are utterly worthless; in fact, are displeasing to God, as Psalm 50:8., Isaiah 1:11., Isaiah 66:3, Jeremiah 6:20, and all the prophets, distinctly affirm. There was no necessity, however, to carry out this truth any further. To tear off the cloak of hypocrisy, with which Saul hoped to cover his disobedience, it was quite enough to affirm that God's first demand was obedience, and that observing His word was better than sacrifice; because, as the Berleb. Bible puts it, "in sacrifices a man offers only the strange flesh of irrational animals, whereas in obedience he offers his own will, which is rational or spiritual worship" (Romans 12:8). This spiritual worship was shadowed forth in the sacrificial worship of the Old Testament. In the sacrificial animal the Israelite was to give up and sanctify his own person and life to the Lord. (For an examination of the meaning of the different sacrifices, see Pent. pp. 505ff., and Keil's Bibl Archol. 41ff.) But if this were the design of the sacrifices, it was clear enough that God did not desire the animal sacrifice in itself, but first and chiefly obedience to His own word. In 1 Samuel 15:22, טּוב is not to be connected as an adjective with זבח, "more than good sacrifice," as the Sept. and Thenius render it; it is rather to be taken as a predicate, "better than slain-offerings," and מזּבח is placed first simply for the sake of emphasis. Any contrast between good and bad sacrifices, such as the former construction would introduce into the words, is not only foreign to the context, but also opposed to the parallelism. For אילים חלב does not mean fat rams, but the fat of rams; the fat portions taken from the ram, which were placed upon the altar in the case of the slain-offerings, and for which חלב is the technical expression (compare Leviticus 3:9, Leviticus 3:16, with Leviticus 3:4, Leviticus 3:11, etc.). "For," continued Samuel (1 Samuel 15:23), "rebellion is the sin of soothsaying, and opposition is heathenism and idolatry." מרי and הפצר are the subjects, and synonymous in their meaning. קסם חטּאת, the sin of soothsaying, i.e., of divination in connection with the worship of idolatrous and demoniacal powers. In the second clause idols are mentioned instead of idolatry, and compared to resistance, but without any particle of comparison. Opposition is keeping idols and teraphim, i.e., it is like worshipping idols and teraphim. און, nothingness, then an idol or image (vid., Isaiah 66:3; Hosea 4:15; Hosea 10:5, Hosea 10:8). On the teraphim as domestic and oracular deities, see at Genesis 31:19. Opposition to God is compared by Samuel to soothsaying and oracles, because idolatry was manifested in both of them. All conscious disobedience is actually idolatry, because it makes self-will, the human I, into a god. So that all manifest opposition to the word and commandment of God is, like idolatry, a rejection of the true God. "Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, He hath rejected thee, that thou mayst be no longer king." ממּלך equals מלך מהיוה (1 Samuel 15:26), away from being king.
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